06/14/2008 - 06/14/2008
Food in China is the one passion of life which is completely uninhibited by its conservative traditional culture.
Eating in China requires more dexterity of tongue that westerners are accustomed to. Poultry is never deboned, but chopped into pieces with sharp bone edges and occasional small bone chunks. Fish is usually cooked whole, and bones are separated from the meat in your mouth. Shrimp and crawfish are served in shell (pop them in your mouth to suck on them before you start peeling). While it is possible to avoid such foods, you'd be missing a lot.
Bones and shells are spit with a small puff of air off the tip of the tongue, directly onto the table.
In most cases, adult Chinese eaters can perform all necessary separations in their mouth, with occasional help from chopsticks if needed to rotate a large piece (such as a piece of rib). It is okay to use your fingers, just messier.
In fine dining, or with honored guests, rice is served only towards the end of the meal, to be eaten as a filler.
Alcohol can only be consumed with food. In family environments, the drinking rules are relaxed. You should, however, wait to drink until all drinkers are ready for a toast to begin. After that, you generally drink when and how much you want.
In more formal situations, the rules are quite strict. The host does all the pouring for all drinking guests. If there is no single host (person paying the tab), sometimes the eldest male at the table takes on the role, but others may also pick up the bottle for refills. However, one should never refill their own glass before refilling others -- and permission to do so is not needed! Just refill away. This makes it tricky if you are a guest and want to stop drinking.
You never sip your alcohol alone, but rather wait for someone else to join you, or wait for them to initiate by gripping their glass expectantly, then a gentle wordless toast. You should not drain your glass unless you are finished, as this would imply that your host is not refilling you frequently enough. However, if your host drains his, then you should finish yours too.
Learn to use chopsticks. It's not that hard, it just takes practice.
Do not use your chopsticks to point at anyone -- this is rude.