Thursday, February 27, 2014

Food Etiquette

This post will be mostly about food etiquette. There will be a later post about Chinese etiquette in general.

In Western culture, we normally put our young first before the elderly. In Chinese culture, it's the other way around. We put the elderly before anyone else. The way we see it is that: older you are, the wiser you are, therefore, you deserve more respect. In Hong Kong, we normally eat dimsum for lunch and family style with the Lazy Susan for dinner.
When the tea arrives to the table, the eldest is served tea first and you work your way around the table and you serve yourself tea last. (As you will see, Chinese people put others first. It's a sign of respect and modesty.)


  • When tea is being poured for you, you tap two fingers a few times on the table next to your cup. This means thank you without interrupting the conversation you may be having.
  • When there's no more tea in the teapot, you take off the lid and balance it on the arm of the teapot, it's a small sign for the waiters to help refill your tea.
  • When someone offers you a cup of tea (this normally happens in ceremonies like weddings), they extend the cup to you with both hands and you receive it with both hands. It looks more polite and it shows you're "committed."
    • Kids usually offers tea to the elderly to show them respect.
Woman serving tea to elderly with both hands. 

Rice and Dishes

  • Never pour soy sauce into your rice. The rice is supposed to supplement your food; the soy sauce is not supposed to supplement your rice.
  • NEVER STICK YOUR CHOPSTICKS STRAIGHT UP IN YOUR RICE BOWL. The only time this ever happens is when you're praying to your ancestors or gods. This is an offering to them! If you do this in the restaurant, you look like you're praying to dead people!!! IT'S BAD. It's like saying you're going to die now.
    • Also, they usually stick incense into uncooked rice when they're praying to the dead. Chopsticks look like incense.
Chinese incense in rice. 

  • Chinese people like it when their guests eat more. They may put some food into your rice bowl. You don't have to finish it, but it is highly recommended that you try everything that you are given (unless you are extremely full). Don't just eat rice and none of the dishes.
  • When people are reaching for something on the Lazy Susan, you don't move the Lazy Susan.
Dimsum on a Lazy Susan


  • In Japan, people like it when you slurp because it means that you love the food. Don't do that in Hong Kong. Hong Kong likes to feel more upper class so if you slurp, it reminds them of poor people from mainland China.
  • Use your spoon until you can't scoop anymore into your spoon. Then pick up the bowl and finish it. (However, don't do this in fancy restaurants. They like to be more western and westerners don't normally do that.)

Extra notes:

When you're eating Chinese food, you need to have an open mind. I once heard that Chinese people eat anything that moves. That's more or less true. I have been grossed out before and lost my appetite when I was younger;. However, it's very important that you keep an open mind. You should try a little bit of everything. If you refuse, some may take that as an insult.

Also, don't forget to say "Sic Fan!" (Cantonese) or "Chi Fan!" (Mandarin) before you eat! It means "Let us eat!" and it welcomes people to eat the food.

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