Chinese Dining Etiquette: Table Manners And The Polite Art Of Eating

When it comes to eating in Chinese culture, there are quite a few dining etiquette rules one should be mindful of. It could be eating with a Chinese family at a boisterous Chinese banquet. Or it could be a more casual dining affair with Chinese colleagues from China over business lunch.

Coming from a stereotypical Chinese-Malaysian family, these Chinese eating customs surrounded me all my life. I’ve always found them odd to be honest, but always found myself sticking by them.

Strict table manners can sometimes make us feel on the sidelines. Chinese pasta | Weekly Photo Challenge: Edge.

Strict table manners can sometimes make us feel on the sidelines. Chinese pasta | Weekly Photo Challenge: Edge.

Eating around Chinese people with a traditional mindset is arguably an art in itself. More precisely, this tends to entail watching the way one behaves before and during meals together.

There is usually a ‘pre-determined’ seating arrangement at the Chinese dining table, a marker of hierarchical and patriarchical family structures in Chinese culture and a reminder of one’s place at home. Usually grandpa, grandma or the parents tend to take the most venerable seat at the table, namely the seat that faces the door which gives them full view of who comes and goes. This is reminiscent of the notion of honor. In Chinese culture, elders are deemed wisest and so deemed more deserving of respect or to loosely put it, to have earned ‘the best view’ and perhaps ‘watch their back’ more desirably too.

Growing up in Malaysia, dad took the family to yumcha downtown Petaling Street each Sunday. We usually got seated at a table for four against a wall. “Sit inside,” dad always firmly and rather brusquely instructed me. I would slide into my designated chair, inches away from the oily tiled wall and dad sat next to me. “Now. Let me order the food,” he would say in the same commanding tone, determinedly looking up and down the aisle for the dim sum pushcart.

Before one starts eating around Chinese company, it’s customary to wait for everyone to be seated and for someone to invite everyone to tuck in. In Asian cultures, a meal is a chance to recognise and take stock of the people in our lives. Togetherness, family and guānxì (关系 / connections) are virtues in Asian culture; there is peacefulness in togetherness so to speak. “Sik. Lei sik” (食. 來食/ Come. Let’s eat), is what my grandma always said to signal the start of extended family dinners. She would then scoop boneless bits of yellow-skinned chicken (白切雞 / bái qiē jī) for us kids.

Eating with stereotypical Chinese company, it is often polite to greet each other and share dishes.

Eating with stereotypical Chinese company, it is often polite to greet each other and share dishes.

Eating the Chinese way, one is constantly reminded about age-old Chinese superstition. More often than not these dining superstitions on how to eat are subtle reminders to be thankful for the present and food to eat. Sticking chopsticks upright in a bowl is frowned upon as it resembles joss sticks at the altar – symbolic of death which is a taboo topic among stereotypical Chinese. Banging chopsticks together – symbolic of beggars begging for money and being out of work is shameful to many a Chinese family.

Hold one’s rice bowl close to their mouth as they eat – food won’t fall to the ground. Earning one’s meal through hard work climbing the career ladder is prided upon in Asian cultures. As my mum constantly said to me over dinner as a kid, “Finish your rice”. If I didn’t and had some left in my bowl, she remarked across the table, “There’s still some rice here”. Consequently, showing appreciation for a meal is common Chinese dining etiquette. Slurping one’s food is not rude, just as asking for another serving is not impolite either especially if it’s a ten-course meal served up.

Sharing is caring and it’s an affair at Chinese meals, in line with the notion of togetherness. At many Chinese banquets, tables are round as opposed to rectangular. No matter where one sits at a round table, they can see and communicate with each other better. The concept of circle (圆 / yuán) is symbolic of union (团圆,tuán yuán; reunion) and the moon (圆月, yuán yuè / full moon) – two important lifestyle and cultural markers among Chinese people. Also, very rarely is a single Chinese dish eaten by one person themselves; each dish is generally shared and put on a revolving table or Lazy Susan in the middle of the table. Interestingly enough, the Lazy Susan arguably is deemed no more a Western novelty. With my small stature and short arms it’s hard for me to even reach dishes placed right in the middle of a Lazy Susan meant for a table for twenty – someone always has to push the dishes across to me. They have to be nice.

For some of us who don’t believe in superstition, these so-called Chinese table manners might come across as ludicrous. This includes me. I don’t put my bowl close to my mouth, but I do try not to spill my food all over the place. I can’t see why I can’t start eating the moment I sit at the table, but I still let the folks give direction before doing so when I’m eating with them. Why? It just feels…right.

There is always something familiar and comforting eating Chinese, and eating with the same people in general.

There is always something familiar and comforting eating Chinese, and eating with the same people in general.

Chinese dining etiquette is more than just unspoken cultural rules and routine. It begets a sense of ‘coming home’ as others wait for us to be seated and serve us food that they cooked or bought. Likewise, we might not mind one bit waiting for others to be seated, sharing food all round and respecting our elders at the table – all in all we’re greatful for the company around us. Eating with Chinese company, we come to be a bit more selfless and maybe realise that it’s never always about oneself but others around us too, keeping us grounded. As novelist Laurence Sterne said:

“Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners”

A typical Chinese meal together is a meal of company. The etiquette rules pull you to be a part of something: it’s about being different but being sincerely, wholeheartedly willing enough to share the same values for a moment together. As part of many bigger Chinese meals (think reunion dinners and wedding banquets), it’s usually customary to toast to the occasion, what we like to call and actually shout the words ‘yum seng(飲勝 / drink success or gān bēi / 乾杯) as drinks are raised in the air. The louder and longer the yum seng, the more auspicious it is touted to be. I never really took much of a liking to it. At each extended family dinner, I’m usually the last to stand up for the yum seng toast, last to raise my glass of tea…and as if on cue, everyone else around the table will burst into a deafening chorus of yummm senggg – which can go on for a minute or more like this Chinese dinner.

When you share a meal together, we learn to get along a bit more.

When you share a meal together, we learn to get along a bit more.

Eating is a daily affair. It can feel mundane if we eat the same dishes with the same people regularly, even if it is just once at year at a certain time of the year. But though we may not feel excited gathering to eat together, our sheer presence at the table does matter. When we sit down for a meal together, there’s an unspoken agreement to be together and put aside our differences for a moment, no matter where we’ve been and what we’ve did. As author Emily Post said about treating others:

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

Each time I look around at the rest of the family shouting yummm senggg at the top of their lungs, my mouth twitches upwards ever so slightly. There’s something special about sharing and being a part of a typical Chinese meal. It’s uplifting to say the least. And fun. Each time my family drags on the yummm senggg in unwavering rousing unison of a chorus, I hold my glass of tea up a little higher, twitch turning into a smile. Always.

Have you eaten Chinese cuisine with Chinese people?

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301 thoughts on “Chinese Dining Etiquette: Table Manners And The Polite Art Of Eating

  1. I never knew so much about Chinese dinning etiquettes my whole 21 years of existence than I did from this one post ! What a brilliant insightful and interesting read this was. For a person who doesn’t know much about this culture, it was refreshing to find so much about it; the little details, the superstitions, the family traditions etc. I’ve had Chinese cuisine but never dined in a proper Chinese restaurant where they eat with chopsticks and all (I have never eaten with chopsticks in my life so far because i never got to try. But I wanna try it. It looks so cool. It’s like a skill within itself ! Although I’m sure I’m gonna totally fail at it but still lol 😋 )

    Plus you seem like a great cook! I mean look at that so freshly cooked pasta !!😍

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    • Awww. I am sure from your Pakistani background, eating time is a bit similar too! I hope at the very least the Chinese cuisine you had tasted great and wasn’ too oily. Maybe I can take you for a Chinese meal if we do meet ❤

      The little etiquette details can make eating a chore to some. But at the end of the day, it is about the company that eats with us. There is always something special about two people or even a group of people coming together – it doesn't happen every day.

      Thanks so much, Zee. That pasta was freshly cooked. It was hard to take photos as the hot steam kept fogging up my lens 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would go by those etiquettes, they seem to bring people together. And eating is such a pleasure, so why not sit down, relax, and then start eating (and sharing too)?

    The roundness of tables doesn’t come as a surprise to me. It rather promotes sharing and caring!

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  3. Mabel, this is an epic post…you cover so much and with the perfect insight from both sides (Chinese and non-Chinese). There are not many better experiences I’ve had eating than with the boisterous Chinese banquet of colleagues and friends, and it took me a long, long time to begin to get some of these rules under-my-belt, and I think it is a continual process for me. I’ll always be living and learning in this area! From the importance of guanxi where to sit and who to toast, which was my first real test when I started work in China, to the simple things such as what to eat and often to watch how to eat some of the more exotic dishes 🙂

    One of my favorite things my friends and colleagues taught me (more through observation and my asking) is the lifting of the rice bowl to the mouth… I love it and taught it to my nieces and nephews this trick 🙂 Trying to eat rice with just chopsticks while navigating the long distance from table to mouth is too much. The best part about such meals, and most important, it that these banquets are usually one of the best meals I’ve ever had ~ Chinese food impresses me so much. The photos you have throughout your post makes my stomach grumble too! There is not a better feeling than at these special banquets to have a genuine and sincere smile on my face throughout. I’m very happy to read this today, as in about a week I depart Seattle and head back to Hong Kong/China once again 🙂 Wishing you a great day!

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    • I am sure today you eat very well around your Chinese friends and colleagues, etiquette-wise and stuffing-yourself-wise 😉 You make a good point when you say it is a continual process when it comes to eating with a different culture. So many of us move around so much these days, and it can be hard to keep up with what is polite and what is not at the table. Dumplings tend to be hard to eat in my opinion. They come in all different shapes and sizes and sometimes I can never hold the chopsticks in a certain way to pick them up. Oh, and what about picking up dumpling skin stuck to the plate… 😀

      Your nieces and nephews sound like they do Chinese food very well 😉 Chinese banquets are indeed very special. No surprise to hear they are one meal you enjoy heaps. The louder, the more auspicious a banquet may be – and rightfully so because the louder it is, the more chatting and swapping stories there may be. Back to the grindstone for you soon. But back to more Chinese food too 😀

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  4. Thanks for sharing your story of eating. I recall my mother taught us eating manner when we were little. I guess there are different eating manners in such a big country and long history.

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  5. I love this informative post that gives so much insight into Chinese culture. I have often thought that the culture of being Jewish (which I am) has many similarities to Chinese culture, such as the emphasis and importance of food, and the same which can be said for education and parental expectation. Your post though enlightened and educated and amused me with the intricacies of the “behind the scenes” additional information of which I had little knowledge. I have always had a preference for round tables, and it was great to read the reasoning which makes perfect sense, for their popularity and use in Chinese meals.

    Peta

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    • I have never known that Jewish culture had similarities to Chinese culture. Fascinating, and we are more similar than we think. Food is certainly an important marker in many a Chinese family. It signifies a coming together and a moment where sharing is caring. I feel that in general round tables can accommodate more people, in that you can sit closer to each other…maybe it’s just me, I don’t know.

      Thanks for your kind words, Peta.

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      • I definitely prefer round tables as well. That way no one is at the “head” of the table. Everyone is equal and equally visible and present.

        Peta

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  6. Sounds like eating is a ritual when the family comes together on your end Mabel. the same is true for us when the family gathers, quite a different experience than just my husband and I dining together 😀. I love the way the family interacts over a meal, and the more the merrier. Glad to see it’s the same in your world. the customs and “rules” may be different but the smiles are the same.

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    • I actually really do prefer quieter meals because sometimes too much chatter makes it hard for me to relax with my food. Enjoy your quiet meals with your husband, Tina. They sound very romantic 😀

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  7. I’ve never had the pleasure of eating Chinese food with Chinese people, Mabel. However, I do enjoy the food very much and have always thought it very healthy.
    In this day and age, it is now a real pleasure to sit down and eat a meal together. When I was growing up we did this every day. These days I hear of families only sitting down together to eat once, maybe twice, a week. It seems life today gets in the way of letting many families eat a meal together. It is such a shame this happens and don’t even get me started on families who sit in front of the TV while they eat.
    A lovely read, which was full of wonderful interesting information.

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  8. Liebe Mabel einen schönen guten Morgen wünsche ich dir komme wenig zum schreiben denn meine Frau ist krank und das geht vor hab einen schönen Tag mit vielen lieben Grüßen Klaus in Freundschaft

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  9. Hi Mabel, what an interesting post! I have not shared a meal with Chinese folks, sadly. I have eaten in Chinese restaurants at the round tables and really enjoy that open feeling a round table brings. We were also raised to wait for everyone before taking our first bite. I love the toast tradition! I like that the elders get the best seats. That makes sense. My beau always likes to choose a seat where he can see the door.

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    • Thanks, Lisa. Though you have not eaten with Chinese folks, it does sound like you have dined in an authentic Chinese setting. You say it so well – “that open feeling a round table brings”. Very serene way to put it.

      Your beau sounds like he wants to keep an eye on who comes in and who comes to the table 🙂

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  11. I agree Mabel, cooking is a science but eating is an art and it is very much there the way you have described the Chinese eating. In fact there is so much common in the way eating take place between the various Asian countries though there is big difference in the food we eat and over a period of time there has been a convergence of the cuisines of the Asian countries.

    Chinese food is such an integral part of the Indian food circle and it plays a big role in breaking the regular cuisines we Indians keep eating, noodles is what we all love, though there may be a difference in the way it is made and served here in India. But as regard the culture and practice while eating, much here in India we also high reverence for elders on the dinning table and they set the rules and they start and the rest follow, it is place where the talking points take shape in the house and good food and a good talk during the lunch or dinner is a sign of bonding in the family and bridging the invisible gaps between the family members which otherwise would grown and gained momentum to create the disturbances in the house.

    Mabel such a beautifully crafted thoughts on the food we eat and the way we eat, yes we have to eat daily and we may eat same food but we have to make it interesting and we have to make those time during eating fruitfully engaging…with eating mind gets the energy to rebuild its lost ground and all new thoughts start taking shape and hunger is obstacle to creating thinking.

    Thanks so much for sharing such an interesting and truly insightful post…indeed a profound food for thought. It has acted as starter and we are ready for the five course meal.
    😀

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    • “cooking is a science but eating is an art” You are so right, but I also think that cooking is both a science and an art. Everyday chefs all over the world use their imagination to whip up new dishes for us to try 😉

      I really had no idea that Chinese food is a bit part of Indian culture until I heard from the other Indian bloggers and you. I’m guessing rice noodles is a very popular type of noodles in India and among Indians. There is nothing like good talk while you are eating. As you said, it creates cozy bonding but often, it is what makes a meal great and memorable.

      So true that when we sit down to eat we get to rebuild. We get to connect again not just with others, but ourselves too and remember who we are all over again.

      Enjoy your food, Nihar. Always a pleasure to hear from you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree Mabek, food is such an integral part of our life, that it is many times taken for granted and we miss out on many things that can really spice up our life…
        Indeed you have touched that very chord in this post and shown how we behave while eating and how we respond on a dinning table. Each country has its own cuisines and also the eating habits changes from place to place and from people to people, so much to learn and enjoy in an eating environment and we go through the motion as it is daily affair…
        There is much more to energy and calories in eating and it is about lifestyle and it is about community and it is about customs and culture we live in and family life…
        Thanks Mabel for sharing and have a lovely day and take care…
        😀

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        • “we miss out on many things that can really spice up our life” Love your play on words, Nihar. Food is indeed the spice of life. Have a meal over company, we can learn a thousand new stories. It is really what makes food taste all the more better.

          You are so right in saying we all respond differently at the dining table. The hungry among us might go for the food straightaway, and if we choose to be respectful and wait for everyone to be seated, we might fidget.

          So true many calories go into eating. There are many courses, many dishes to try as part of a typical Chinese meal that it is easy to put on the calories. I try to be wise and limit myself to one scoop of each dish 😀 Thanks for sharing as always, Nihar. Always a joy to chat to, my friend 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • I agree Mabel, there are so many stories about food and family, how food has changed the bonding within family and how food has expanded the relationship beyond the boundaries of home and family…
            Hunger is such potent power, we work to get the hunger in control and get the food to work and grow in life…there is such an symbiotic relationship between food and work.
            With food changing its content and context, we are trapped in the calories and cost.
            I will plan a Chinese meal this weekend, so as to cherish the beautiful thought you have shared.
            😀

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  12. Your part about the round table made me think. Yes I remember round tables from when I lived in Asia, and their great to be able to “be close” to many people within the table (depending how big the tables are). Here in Spain, and Europe in general, tables are square for a small party (2-3 people) and rectangular for 4 or more people. When there are lots of people, this means that the conversations seem limited to the person in front of you and the person next to you. It also means that talking to the person next to you sort of makes you turn your back to the other person on the other side of you. I never like this set up. Yes to Chinese round tables!

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    • Maybe the smaller the table, the more cozy the setting, and the more intimate the meal may be. After all, the smaller the table, the less people there are and maybe no shouting conversations across the table at each other.

      But yes, as you said, this setting makes you turn your back on the other person. There have been times when I’ve went out to lunch and dinner with others and we got seated at a square table. Naturally we are facing each other, but when the square table is pretty big sometimes my friend can’t hear me…I have a small voice, lol.

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  13. Great post, Mabel,

    I learned my Chinese table manners gradually. By the time I met my Chinese husband, he’d lived in the United States for a few years, so he was familiar with Western eating manners. At home our eating customs and our menus were a mixture of East and West. So when we ate with his family or went to a Chinese banquet, I had to learn Chinese manners by watching and then asking him for explanations after the party was over.

    I love Chinese banquets. I love eating just a few bites of a variety of dishes. I like the courtesy of serving each other. I noticed that older people or people of a higher status were more aggressive about putting food on my plate, even if they were sitting two chairs away. I would say that encouraging other people to eat and to eat more is a Chinese characteristic. My father-in-law was a thin man who didn’t like to overeat, so at a banquet, he made himself so busy serving other people that they didn’t have much opportunity to put food on his plate.

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    • It sounds like you had a big menu at home, Nicki, with Eastern and Western dishes to choose from. Almost spoilt for choice. But it must have been such an eye-opening experience to eat different food all the time.

      “aggressive about putting food on my plate” I’ve met quite a few Chinese elders who are just like that. It is their way of showing that they care for you and they want the best for you. I find it a nice gesture, though I never really finish everything on my plate – too full.

      Your FIL is very smart man. Good strategy 🙂

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  15. sometimes the simple, honest things are the best customs. since China is such an ancient country, they knew long before others how to act and not act (of course, then, they invented gun powder), I think that’s why some moved to Malaysia??

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  16. Ah! Quite an interesting post, Mabel! I don’t have many Chinese friends, so I didn’t know many of these customs. I find it interesting, how around the world, there are so many traditions to follow while eating. I remember fumbling with chopsticks in Nara, Japan. And, 4 years later, it helps me in my stay in Korea. I’ve always found people to be appreciative of attempts made at understanding and trying to follow cultural practices, even if you fumble,drop the dumpling, and smile to cover your embarrassment. I think, attempts don’t go unnoticed. 🙂

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    • It sounds you are very adventurous when it comes to eating and dining different cuisines, Cheryl. You are not the only one to drop the dumpling. I drop the dumpling all the time with my chopsticks, really, and the dumpling rolls all over the place 🙂 When we try to eat like the locals, we respect their customs and traditions. Nice to hear that you give new eating ways a go – a good way of connecting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  17. WHOAH. Your pasta made me hungry…and I just ate! Incidentally, a lot of Chinese food have become a part of our own culture here. That’s ‘cause even before Spain came and conquered us, we had been doing trade with others from different countries, China included. Lots of Chinese stayed here, doing business and having families. That is why we have lots of “Chinoys” or Chinese-Pinoys (Pinoy is just street slang for Filipino).

    Love the new information about your culture that you’ve shared here. Many of them, I just found out; many of them, we can relate to.

    “As my mum constantly said to me over dinner as a kid, ‘Finish your rice’. If I didn’t and had some left in my bowl, she remarked across the table, ‘There’s still some rice here’.”

    LOL! Can I just say your mum is just like me with the kids? Ha ha haaaa!!!! My own parents told us to finish our food, too, but I’ve taken it to a higher level, reminding the kids that many other kids would be glad to even be able to eat what they take for granted.

    “Slurping one’s food is not rude.”

    I heard before that in Chinese culture, it’s more rude not to make a sound when slurping. Is that true?

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    • I put a lot of veggies in my pasta, and it also has potato. Also a load of garlic and pine nuts. And a bit of salt and quite a bit of pepper. But I think a lot of people will find my cooking plain because I really like my cooking…plain and simple 😛

      Chinoy. This is the first I’ve heard of it. Love the word already. I’m guessing there are quite a bit of Chinoy dishes too, Chinese dishes adapted to local palates and cuisine style.

      That is correct. If you slurp your food and not make a slurping sound, it is rude. This is especially so in Japanese culture. When you slurp your food, the louder the sound, the more you are thought to enjoy the meal. Also, in Chinese culture I notice people blow on their hot food a lot of cool it down. I don’t know if the louder you blow, the more eager you are to eat the food..

      Liked by 1 person

      • I cook plain and simple also…because I don’t cook much. My sister was my father’s cooking novice, not me. I’m quite ignorant (well, almost) when it comes to cooking. I did invent some tofu omelette recipes, he he…

        Lots of Chinese-inspired food, we have. Like the various noodle dishes, in particular, that we generally call “pansit”, steamed buns called “siopao”, and dumplings we call “siomai”. Of course, over time, we added our own Filipino touch to them.

        How different cultures can be! Here, and I guess, in most countries, slurping loudly is either considered rude or lack of proper etiquette. As for blowing on hot food, we do that all the time, although I can’t say it has to do with culture. In any case, it is proper to blow subtly and discreetly, or to simply let hot food cool off a bit before biting or digging in formal social settings.

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        • Siomai. Yummm. I can never seem to get enough of that. I think I could even have a full meal of siew mai 😀

          Really, I didn’t know that in Filo culture it is rude to slurp on noodles. Definitely will be keeping this in mind. Pardon me if I slurp noisily, but in all honestly I don’t do it a lot. My mum, dad and brother all blow loudly on their hot food. Maybe I am the odd one out, lol.

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          • In Filipino culture, it is not rude to slurp on noodles. I just meant slurping noisily. And you normally don’t do that in public unless you use spoon. Anyhoo, slurping normally creates sound, so it’s just considered normal enough.But not if it’s loud. 🙂

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  18. Your pictures make me excited to get to Malaysia and enjoy yummy Chinese food again. The only time I have eaten Chinese food in traditional setting was at a large wedding. Otherwise, I have eaten Chinese food with Chinese friends, but with the exception of the chopsticks standing upright in the bowl, I was unaware of the other, very cool traditions.

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    • I hope you get to eat lots of Chinese food when you are in Malaysia and in Singapore. Almost there now, for you. Just as traveling is an adventure, so is eating food that is foreign to us. I am sure you will enjoy eating Chinese food when you are in Asia, with good Chinese company. Looking forward to hearing about it.

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  19. I suppose much of civilisation revolves around food and therefore, etiquette, tradition and superstition has evolved around food as well. Perhaps it connects us with our roots in some small way.

    I wonder if eating etiquette will change, given the rise of the “food blogger”. 🙂

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    • Fact is, we all need food to live. So you are very correct in saying that this civilisation revolves around food.

      With the rise of the food blogger, I think we all have to learn to be polite to those who take photos of food 🙂

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  20. It’s a pity, I haven’t…yet. Looking forward to that day. I had been to Chinese restaurants with Chinese around but haven’t paid attention to their table etiquette so to speak. Be that as it may, I definitely admire Chinese tradition when it comes to table etiquette. Filipinos use spoon and fork while Chinese use chopsticks.

    When I and my siblings were younger, we loved banging our spoons and forks and clanking them against the aluminum plates. We only stopped when the food is served. It makes me cringed now whenever I think of the times I was scolding my two little men doing the same thing now and when I read that part that of the article that vehemently rebukes the act. “Sticking chopsticks upright in a bowl is frowned upon as it resembles joss sticks at the altar – symbolic of death which is a taboo topic among stereotypical Chinese. Banging chopsticks together – symbolic of beggars begging for money and being out of work is shameful to many a Chinese family.”

    I could just imagine how exciting it would be to eat Chinese cuisine with Chinese…

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    • Your two little men are probably just excited for some food, banging their cutlery around like that. So many of us are guilty of this. In a way, it can be seen as an appreciation for food for those of us who are not too keen on believing in tradition.

      I am sure one day you will be able to eat Chinese cuisine with very nice Chinese friends. You would be very much welcomed, the polite person that you are, Sony. Maybe you might try dining in a Chinese restaurant in Saudi. Don’t know if they have such cuisine there, but the world is a big place.

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  21. loved reading this, Mabel, so interesting and so enjoyable 🙂 I just love how you focused on food and eating together as the epitome of togetherness and respect for the family … they say when you visit a place you need to try the local meals to get to know the spirit of that place… learning about table etiquette is just as important I guess… 🙂 you have become an even more eloquent writer, if that is even possible… ♥

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    • Food brings us together more than we realise. There is always a story behind a dish, in the way that it is prepared, served, and then enjoyed together. Agree with you that when you visit a place you should try the local food to truly get to know a place. Food not only touches us physically, but emotionally too.

      You are so sweet, Alex. So kind. I hope to be a better writer. Still feeling my writing is clunky, but improving ❤

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  22. Fascinating…. absolutely fascinating. I’ve not read much about Chinese food and eating culture, I don’t even think I’ve watched a movie about Chinese cuisine so I found all the little must not do’s so interesting. I shall be most sensitive to the way I handle chopsticks should I ever be so lucky to dine with you my friend. Awesome post… as always.

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    • Awww, you are so sweet, Miss Anna! One day, I think in your time in hospitality, you will be challenged to put together a Chinese meal for quite a few people. It might be me who throws this challenge to you…or maybe someone else like my stuffed monkey Mr Wobbles 😀

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  23. I recognize some of the traditions mentioned in your post; some of which my family follows and some of them that they don’t, lol. I take it, from the pinyin you used, that you speak Cantonese? I speak Mandarin.

    I actually feel awkward eating with family who I don’t see regularly. Perhaps my views are colored by my own personal perceptions of the kind of people I want in my life. For example, I feel like I would only care about eating with people I know or want to get to know. So when I have to attend a family gathering or see extended relatives that I haven’t seen in years all because it’s the lunar new year, I feel as if the whole thing is a big fat charade, especially the part where people start asking after me and acting like they’re interested in what’s going on in my life, all the while I know the next time I see them the following year, they’re probably going to ask the same questions again.

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    • Yes, I speak Cantonese. Or a little bit of it. But I can follow a Cantonese conversation just by listening.

      It is a interesting way that you put it and a view that I agree with. There are relatives whom I can only recognise by face, but we don’t share any similarities and don’t have common ground to talk about. So we make small talk and even then it sounds like we’re being nosy with each other. If I don’t make small talk at such family gatherings and dinners, my parents will then chide me for being rude. I’m guessing maybe it’s just the introvert in me, and those who are more outgoing probably don’t mind making small talk and just chatting “whatever” in general.

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      • Oh dear, I’m terrible at small talk with my extended family. I usually don’t talk much, partially if I am in the presence of my mom’s relatives because they use the Fujian/Hokkien dialect amongst their family members, and I can hardly understand a thing. This makes me very self-conscious since I can only grasp a few words here and there of that dialect, so I know when I’m being spoken about. I hate it when relatives talk about me when in their presence or the times I hear my mom talking about me to them on the phone.

        That’s why I don’t feel very Chinese sometimes. For the lunar year, my mom was calling up relatives left and right to wish them a happy new year. I got the sense she did it to be polite and cordial and that she doesn’t actually have a whole lot to talk to them about since she kept bringing up the same topics for almost every phone call.

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        • It is always awkward when relatives talk about you in another language. You can grasp what they are saying and they are looking at you, obviously referring to you, but you don’t know enough to actually engage in thoughtful conversation with them. My parents are always insistent on my coming over to my relatives – or these days over the phone – to wish them “Hello auntie/uncle” during the Lunar New Year. While I get it that she wants me to acknowledge others, on the other hand I wonder why is it really necessary because me and my relatives have never had a normal conversation before and don’t connect with each other.

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          • Yep, it’s awkward as heck when my parents used to school me on what I should say to my relatives as a greeting. One of the worst is how to say uncle/aunt in Chinese, which is made even more complicated because both my mom and dad’s sides use different dialect words for it.

            I think part of me associates my mom talking in Hokkien on the phone as anxiety provoking for me because every time I hear her, I feel the urge to leave the room and blast my earphones so I don’t hear her bring up my name. I know it’s crazy for me to assume she’s constantly talking about me. There are likely times whoever she is speaking to doesn’t ask about me, or if my mom does bring me up, it’s not something negative like I expect it to be. However, when I have heard her talking about me, such as one time when she was discussing my unemployment, I kept thinking, “see, I knew she would talk badly about me” though what she said was taken more negatively by me because of the negative perception I have about myself.

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            • Maybe your mum has nothing much else to talk about and she will bring up you in passing conversation. That is how I feel about my parents sometimes. Like you, I would try to tune out what my parents say, whether it is good or bad about me. In fact, I don’t like hearing people talk about me in general and I think it has got to do partly with anxiety and me being an introvert.

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  24. Because I’m a coeliac I rarely go to Chinese restaurants as most of the shared food served contains gluten. However, I do like the Chinese tradition of eating at round tables, which is much more convivial. And the practice of sharing food served on a lazy Susan is such a great social enabler. I also love eating with chopsticks, but it is a bit of a etiquette minefield for the uninitiated. 😄

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    • Correct. A lot of Chinese food is not gluten free. Maybe one day there will be a gluten-free Chinese restaurant 😀 Keep practising using your chopsticks. I am sure you are quite goof at it already 🙂

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