Flavors of China - Entertaining Chinese Style
The guest of honor faces the master of the house, who sits with his back to the door. Married women sit to the right of their husbands.
At the beginning of the meal, the guest should first pick up his chopsticks and wait for the master or mistress of the house to begin eating and say the words "seck fan" (literally "let us eat rice").
Etiquette demands that one eat slowly and eat everything served by the host. The guest of honor is always offered the choice cuts.
Don't be afraid to bring your bowl to the edge of your lips and to push the rice toward your mouth. It is easier to eat rice this way, rather than to pick up the grains. It's not unacceptable to make noise while eating, though you must avoid blowing your nose.
If tea is drunk, each guest will serve it in turn; guests tap their fingertips on the table as a gesture of thanks and reverence.
According to The Book of Etiquette, written 3000 years ago, one must not stir the rice in one's bowl, eat too quickly, fill one's bowl too much or choose pieces from the common plate.
It is the guest of honor who rises to signal the end of the meal.
In the 18th century, the Chinese abandoned their low tables and the accompanying kneeling position for eating.
The table ideally should be round so that the host can see all the guests. In the centre a turntable is placed to allow guests to serve themselves more easily. In front of each guest are laid a small bowl for rice, a cup for tea and, of course, chopsticks.
The dinnerware is porcelain which distributes heat evenly.
In the old days, talking at table was forbidden and it is only in our modern environment that the Chinese have given in to the custom of the "business lunch." The first permitted sound is that of chewing food. It is not out of place to smack one's lips, either, since this sound is considered a sign of appreciation. The Chinese meal is generally accompanied by tea, sometimes flavored with jasmine. It's appropriate to drink it in small sips, sucking in noisily to prevent burning the mouth or palate. When wine is on the menu, it is drunk in the same way. The fourth sound is that of blowing on hot soup to cool it and slurping it in a kind of sucking noise. The Chinese soup spoon is wider and deeper than its Western counterpart.
Hints & Tips