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Chinese Table Etiquette

If you’re heading to Chinatown London for an authentic feast, dine like a local and immerse yourself into Chinese culture with these simple rules of table etiquette.

Grab your chopsticks!

If you’ve mastered how to use chopsticks… well done to you! But do you know the traditional etiquette of chopsticks too? Chopsticks should only be used to pick up food, here are the dos and don’ts when using them.

  •  You should use communal chopsticks to serve food onto your bowl, then use your own chopsticks to eat with.
  • When picking up food, make sure not to stab or tear apart food with your chopsticks – especially when it comes to dim sum and dumplings.
  • As with traditional cutlery, do not play with your chopsticks, wave them in the air, or have them in your hand when getting your server’s attention.
  • Never rest your chopsticks upright in a bowl, this is a huge taboo in Chinese culture (it resembles incense at funerals). Instead place them on top of or beside your bowl/plate.

You win some, you dim sum

A visitor favourite in Chinatown, dim sum is a popular delicacy. Best enjoyed with others, be sure not to offend your guests at the table and follow these simple rules.

  • Pick up each dumpling one at a time, using the communal chopsticks, rather than your own and serve onto your bowl.
  • Do not fill your bowl with one of every dim sum dish, instead enjoy each dumpling one at a time.
  • Avoid stabbing or skewering the dumplings with your chopsticks, instead gently pick them up.
  • Always offer the last remaining dumpling to your guests first – even if it is your favourite Xiao Long Bao.
  • If you’d like your teapot topped up with hot water, carefully place and rest the lid against the handle of the pot to gesture to your server.

Time for tea?

Us Brits love a brew! In Chinese culture, serving tea is a traditional Chinese etiquette which has a history of more than 3000 years. Whether you are serving or being served, there are a few rules to note.

  • Never leave a teacup empty and fill it up to 80%
  • Put your index and middle fingers together and tap on the table to signal a silent ‘thank you’ to whoever has filled your cup.
  • When being served tea, it is respectful to take hold of the teacup with both hands.
  • Equally, when serving tea to others, especially your elders, pass the teacup over with both hands as a gesture of respect.
  • Make sure the spout of the teapot doesn’t face towards your guest as this is considered impolite. Instead make sure the spout is facing away from them.
  • Slowly savour your cup of tea, this helps with digestion after a big, long meal. Don’t slurp down all in one!

Table Manners

  • Always offer dishes to your guests before serving yourself.
  • Never eat directly from the dish, transfer your share to your own bowl.
  • Don’t ‘dig’ into the dishes on the table, in Chinese culture this is called “digging for treasure” and is considered extremely impolite.
  • When the bill arrives, it’s common for Chinese families and friends to ‘fight’ for the bill and will take it in turns to pay. So don’t be alarmed if you see a friendly altercation.

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