Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dining Etiquette

Going out for dinner is always a comfortable way to spend time with colleagues and friends in Hong Kong. As I live alone in Hong Kong, but don't like to eat alone, I try spend my dinners with friends, colleagues and business partners. During these dinners I carefully watched the table manners, as most of the etiquette are different than what we are used to in Europe.

Malaysian Cuisine
The dinner in Hong Kong is considered to be the highlight of the day and this moment should be spent efficiently as time is always running short in this busy city. And because of the limited time, food in restaurants is served within record times. Before you know, your order is already on the table, cooked or fried and ready to be eaten.

The great thing I like about dining in Asia is that all the food is there to be shared by everyone. Unlike in Europe, where you order your own dish that is supposed to be eaten all by yourself, in Hong Kong (and the greater Asian region) all the food is shared by everyone. Every person on the table looks at the menu, and will suggest something of their interest to the others.

When the food is served, it will be placed in the middle of the table and everyone is free to take a portion. Please take care that you don't use your own chopsticks to take the food, as not everyone appreciates this. Usually there are "shared" chopsticks on the table which you can use to take the food and put it on your plate. In most places you will get a bowl and a small plate. I have always been wondering whether there is a real difference in purpose, but most people use both the plate as the bowl for different purposes. (And yes, needless to say, usually they have no forks and knives, only chopsticks... so you should better get some practice!)

Chinese Hotpot
Tea is an important part of the dining procedure. In all restaurants you are served hot tea and I noticed that it has two different purposes. In some food canteens, I never see people actually drink the tea, but they use it to clean the chopsticks before eating. When I ask about this I usually get the reply that they are not sure whether the sticks are really clean so they take the benefit of the doubt and use the tea to clean it. In restaurants, the tea is usually for drinking, but if I want to be sure, I just wait and pay close attention to what my Asian friends are doing. You never pour tea into your own glass though. It is a common rule that you serve tea for the others, and wait until someone else fills your cup. When you are a guest however, there is no need for you to pour tea for the others.

Dining with your boss or another person that has a higher "rank" I noticed that you should pay attention to some basic rules. First of all, the person highest in rank, should sit at the position of the table that is as far away from the door as possible. The chair that is positioned the closest towards the door is for the person that pays the bill. Besides the location, always let him or her take a look at the menu first and choose some dishes. When the food is served, also wait for this person to either start first, or make a suggestion to start eating.

Having Lunch on the Street. Excellent Food!
Whenever I bring friends from Europe to a dinner in Hong Kong, I always tell them not to worry about anything. Although there are do's and dont's as I described above, the local people are very flexible. They understand that you are a foreigner, that using chopsticks can be difficult, and that you don't always know the rules.

So just relax, enjoy the company and furthermore, enjoy the excellent food that Asia has to offer!

1 comment:

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