Information about eating out, Chinese mealtimes and customs for special occasions...
Chinese cuisine aims to combine colour, texture, aroma, taste and variety. There is no main dish in a Chinese meal; all dishes are of equal importance. People pick and choose from the many dishes on offer to make a meal.
Dairy products are rarely eaten in China because many people are intolerant to lactose. Tofu and soya milk are commonly used.
Dim sum, which is of Cantonese origin, is a major Chinese tradition. Small, bite-sized portions of different foods are served together. This allows people to enjoy a wide variety of different foods in an informal setting. Popular dim sums include pork or shrimp dumplings, deep-fried spring rolls and green peppers with a shrimp filling. Dim sum can also be sweet, with steamed rice cakes, custard and sesame balls being popular.
Banquets are held to celebrate special occasions such as weddings, New Year and the Moons Festival. Instead of everything being served together, as is standard in China, different courses are brought out individually. Hot towels are given out at the beginning and the end of the meal.
Banquets are made up of special meat and vegetable dishes. Rice is just an accompaniment. Eating everything indicates that the host did not provide enough food. Drinking is an important part of banquets, and the host decides on a drink which is served during the banquet. It is common to play drinking games during the meal. Enjoyment of the food is of key importance; it is the traditional way of celebrating together.
Breakfast foods vary around China, but are usually served hot. Popular choices include dim sum, noodles and tea. A typical Chinese breakfast food is Zongzi, which is sticky rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. It can be either sweet or savoury, depending on the filling. Sweet Zongzi is usually stuffed with a sweet bean paste; savoury fillings include ham, chestnuts, mushroom and egg.
Desserts such as cakes and ice cream are eaten only on special occasions. Most standard desserts are healthy and are based around fresh fruits. Popular desserts include rice cakes, which are steamed balls of sweet rice, jellies and dessert soups.
The many different kinds of restaurants found in China's cities provide excellent opportunities to get to know Chinese food. There is a wide choice of places to eat, from sophisticated restaurants with high quality service to more ordinary options which are much cheaper but still serve high-quality food. Street restaurants, night markets and roadside cafés are common and offer delicious local snacks. Popular street foods include meat kebabs, dumplings, stuffed buns and bread.
There are far fewer places to eat out in rural China, where there is often only local food on offer. Western-style food is easy to find in China's major cities. Many hotels have restaurants serving familiar Western food, and all the familiar fast-food chains can be found. Japanese, Indian and Korean restaurants are also common in China.