Chinese, Part 1
|betta_design @ flickr.com CC BY-NC 2.0|
Quick, what's the staple grain for Chinese people? Rice? Not if you live in the north; they eat wheat up there, because it's simply too cold to grow rice. What's the default meat? Pork? Not if you live in the west and northwest, where the population is Muslim and lamb is consumed.
Chinese cuisine is so colossal as practically to defy classification. The country itself is huge, stretching from the Central Asian steppes in the west to the marshy fens of the east, from the forbidding mountains and steamy valleys of the south to the frigid, Siberian north, and there are dozens of culinary traditions. This sort of guide can only give the barest overview of one of the world's most ancient, most mature, most steeped in tradition cuisines.
So what's it like to eat in a real Chinese restaurant, then?
|johnnieutah @ flickr.com CC BY-NC-SA 2.0|
|Your tableware goes in front of you and all the food goes on the lazy Susan. Ingenious!|
Chinese food is always, always, always served family-style. (If you see individual portions plated with rice and a fried egg roll, you are in a Westernized place.) Order like the Chinese do. If you're hungry, order one dish per diner and one for the table; if you aren't, order one fewer dish than there are people at the table. (If you're hosting, err on the side of generosity.)
Some aspects of Chinese restaurant service, on both the diners' part and the waitstaff's part, come across as unspeakably rude to Western eyes. Waitstaff are summoned by gesturing and spend only as long as necessary at the table. More tea is requested with an upturned teapot lid; waitstaff may move plates in order to make room for more dishes on the table. Imperious behavior, which is not uncommon, can turn into shouting, particularly in less refined places. Regardless of the behavior you see, treat your server with respect, but don't be timid about what you want or you may find you don't get it.
|qilin @ flickr.com CC BY 2.0|
|Chinese doesn't have tenses, conjugation or definite articles; confusion ensues.|
There are relatively few rules of etiquette in a normal Chinese restaurant. Rice bowls may be held under the chin and the rice shoved into the mouth with a swipe of the chopsticks. Bones and other detritus may be placed on the plate. Slurping is commonplace. (Burping is less common, regardless of what the books from 40 years ago may say.)
|vermininc @ flickr.com CC BY-NC-SA 2.0|
|Never, ever leave chopsticks in a bowl of rice.|
In certain restaurants, particularly if you are with a group of Chinese people, your dishes may come with a large or differently-colored set of chopsticks. These are service chopsticks, meant as a polite way of serving food from the communal dish without using implements that have been soaking in saliva. If there are no service chopsticks, you may see people using the "butt end" of their chopsticks to remove food from the platter.