Whenever I go to my favorite Chinese restaurant, it feels like there are so many rules I have to follow and so many things I don’t know. And you can’t really blame me, since the food this culture eats is so different from what we’re used to eating in Western culture. Where is the food coloring in walmart? There’s even a whole set of rules that pertain specifically for eating Chinese food!
1. Don’t use chopsticks if you can use a spoon
I was always under the impression that chopsticks were the ‘easier’ way to eat Chinese food. After all, it’s hard to fish food with a fork, even harder to get enough of it, and you’re more likely to drop something (a rice grain or your rice bowl) with chopsticks. Well, I’m here to tell you that there is a right and wrong way to eat Chinese food – and it’s perfectly OK if you reach for a spoon instead of chopstick.
2. Avoid mixing your food
This rule comes from the belief that you should only mix certain foods, such as rice and soup. It’s perfectly fine to mix everything else together in your bowl, or even to give your rice a stir now and then. But once you start mixing rice with other dishes in the same bowl, you’re asking for trouble.
3. Don’t order food from a restaurant that hasn’t been around for a long time
It was actually my grandmother who told me not to do this – and I’m not even kidding about it! She said that I should never order food from a restaurant that hasn’t been around for more than 5 years because it means the restaurant has questionable cleanliness practices (or are just plain bad). I’ve always wondered if that’s true…
4. Avoid certain numbers when ordering food
There are certain numbers that are believed to bring bad luck to people who order them when eating Chinese food – and these are 6, 8, and 9. If you are choosing a dish number for your meal and see one of these numbers on it, you have a few options: either ask the waiters to change it or use the number as a substitute for another number. For example, take the number ‘6’. When people see the word ‘six’, they can easily mishear it as ‘sex’ – so instead of ordering your dish by saying ‘I want #6’, say ‘I want #5’ instead.
5. Avoid eating the last piece of food
This rule applies more to Chinese restaurants that serve Peking duck. Apparently, if you eat the last piece of Peking duck, you’re signing yourself for seven years of bad luck! Oh no! So what do you do instead? Well, try to ask for a box to pack up some leftovers before finishing it off. And then make sure to stop by again in seven years’ time so that you can finally experience that good luck.
6. Avoid using chopsticks to pick up rice
I know it’s tempting (especially if your rice is really really really hot), but do NOT do this. Ever. It’s a huge no-no! No one knows why people should not pick up rice with their chopsticks, but everyone seems to agree that it’s bad luck.
7. Avoid licking your chopsticks
…except when you’re eating dumplings, of course! They are usually served with a side of dipping sauce and you can use the chopsticks to dip them into the sauce before eating them. The problem is that if you lick the ends of your chopsticks clean, you’ll be signing yourself for seven years of bad luck!
8. Don’t eat rice with your hands
…unless you’re eating congee, of course! You see, if you eat rice with your hands, it is said that you’ll lose all your money. That’s why they say that if you want to stay wealthy, always use a pair of chopsticks when eating rice.
9. Avoid using fingers to eat food
This rule only applies to Chinese people (particularly those who are elderly). They believe that when they use their fingers to eat food, it means that they have ‘lost face’. That’s why some people only pick up the food with chopsticks but then transfer the food from the chopsticks into their mouths – and others just use chopsticks all the time.
10. Don’t eat food with the tips of your fingers
…especially when it’s a Western dish. Why? Well, if you touch the food with your finger tips, you’ll be getting sick. …I don’t know why!
11. Avoid using chopsticks as a weapon
Well, this is obviously an insult to the Chinese people and to Chinese food – because it’s really not that hard to figure out who uses chopsticks for what purpose! In some cultures, using chopsticks as a weapon would be considered rude and disrespectful. So make sure not to do this in Western culture (unless you’re really mad)!
12. Don’t eat your food with the same chopsticks that you used to eat the main course
You may be able to get away with this in a restaurant where it’s all served on a big table and there’s plenty of space for everyone to share food at the same table, but in most Chinese restaurants, you’re only allowed to use your own chopsticks. So if you want to eat rice or noodles, make sure that you clean them thoroughly before using them again.