As with any culture, food is an integral part of Chinese culture. By understanding dining customs in China, you can gain insight into Chinese culture as a whole as well as some of the difficulties your host son or daughter will have adjusting to American food and dining customs.
Chinese Dining Customs:
- Communal rather than individual: Family members are often seated around a round table with a lazy Susan in the middle. Food is shared rather than enjoyed individually.
- Food selection: There are many choice of dishes in a meal, not just one. However, it is common for adults to select food on the lazy Susan and place it on their child’s plate, or for husbands & wives, brothers & sisters, to do the same. Therefore, the community heavily influences one’s choices.
- Hierarchy: The eldest member of the household (or the host) sits at the “head” of the table (the seat facing the door). Other members are seated around the elder(s) in descending order according to age and gender.
- Children are central to the family: Grandma and Grandpa often hold their grandchild in their lap at the head of the table, symbolizing the child’s place at the center of the family.
Other differences between Chinese and American food:
- Chinese breakfasts are much different than American breakfasts. In China, it’s typical to have salty and savory foods such as scallion pancakes, steamed buns, or congee. It’s rare to have sweet foods during breakfast.
- Chinese food is often more flavorful and students may sometimes find American food to be bland.
- Traditional Chinese food is almost always served warm; only appetizers are served cold, which can make it difficult for students to adjust to American staple foods such as cereal, salad, and cold sandwiches.
- Chinese food rarely contains dairy. In fact, a majority of the Chinese population is lactose intolerant. Students will likely need time to adjust to the large amount of cheese within the American diet.