Chinese social life consists mostly of one very important event: having dinner together in a restaurant. I spent more than two weeks in China with family and friends of my boyfriend all living in Beijng and so I got to taste a lot of different food in a lot of places. Most of the dishes I did not know before. I was just overwhelmed by the taste, the juiciness, the sweetness or the spiciness or consistency of the dishes. However, after several days, I began to dream a little bit about bread and butter, spaghetti and pizza. Just a little bit. So when Yuze showed me a Korean bakery named « Paris Baguette », I bought a homemade soft bread with nuts and wine berries – I was delighted!
« Most of the dishes I did not know before. »
Some of the eating and drinking habits were also new to me. When we had a meal at home, we would never drink anything. When I was thirsty, I should « drink » some soup. The soup, however, was always delicious. But nothing like a drink of water. It was a thick, spicy black pepper soup with fungus, or a sweet corn flour soup, or a sour eggplant soup – a proper dish I would normally eat as an starter.
« Chinese beer tastes like water. »
When we were eating out, however, things were different. You could bring your own softdrink, wine or beer. Before dinner was served, you often got some tea. Tea was thought to pass the time before dinner arrived. During dinner, we would drink beer, wine, or Chinese alcohol. A small guide about these alcoholic drinks in China:
Chinese beer: About 3-4% alcohol, tastes like water (no taste).
Chinese red wine: Tastes like soft vinegar.
Chinese alcohol: Mostly brewed of rice or other grains. It is very strong! 40-60% really blows your mind of and kills or your evil microbes for sure.
« The most honorable person always sits furthest away from the entrance. »
Some advice: When you’re having dinner with Chinese, never sit right down. Whether the table is round or rectangular, the guest of honor (the eldest person, or the most respected one) should sit at the place facing the entrance of the restaurant or the room. The further away you sit from this place and the nearer to the entrance, the less honourable or the younger you are in general. This is where the staff would be handing over the plates. This is where I was usually seated 😉
Sometimes, your dishes were all packed and wrapped by a plastic. There were normally one or two bowls, a plate, a cup, a spoon and some chopsticks. One or two people would order for the whole table. When choosing from the menu, the waiter or waitress would stay at the table and note all the orders, no matter how long this process would take. The waiter would not leave and let you time to choose and then take the order all at once. After ordering, however, the food would always arrive very quickly. There were a whole lot of dishes each time which you would share together using your chopsticks. There are starters, main courses and deserts. But they would maybe arrive at the same time. For starters, we had cold dishes like a salad. And deserts would be some sweet or salty bread. But there were also sweet dishes for main course. I confess, it’s a bit confusing.
Before or after dinner with the family which takes place at the restaurant, we mostly went for a visit to one or several family member’s homes. There we would drink some tea or have some sliced fruit. By the way, fruit and veggies are much diverser as in Europe and taste much better! However, dinner parties where one would invite other people to his home to a home cooked meal are not very common in China.
« They slaughtered a cock right next to us. »
Overall, food is very, very important. it’s crucial to the lifes and the lifestyle of Chinese people, I would say. To welcome me, they wanted to let me eat and taste all of it. « Eat, eat, eat! » « 吃，吃，吃！»
Neverthemost, there are great regional differences in eating habits. We went to Guilin in the south of China, next to Thailand and Vietnam. There, freshness is the clue. This meant, when we ordered a chicken soup, the landlord of our hotel at the countryside would tell it’s chef to slaughter a cock. Right. Next. To. Us. Picture it like this: My boyfriend and I were sitting at a small outside table, under the light of the stars and our scented candle, to the sweet sound of cicadas would suddenly mix in the last cries of a cock before his death. The chef would use a stub Chinese knife, the cock would lie on the floor and flatter with his wings until he could no more. He would be washed with hot water, his plums would be plucked out… and later on he’s the main ingredient of our soup on the table right next to the candle. The soup was fine, but at this point we decided to be vegetarian for the next three days in Guilin.
I could go on and on about food and eating habits in China. But now I want the pictures take over! Don’t miss the pictures at the end with the curious Chines snacks (chicken feet, pig’s skin and more exquisite stuff)!