eating rituals chinese culture

Food and Eating Rituals in the Chinese Culture – A Guide

Meals are more than just something to eat in many countries. This is especially true in China, where their true culture can be found in the food. Aside from the meals themselves, how they are eaten also reflects their traditions. If you are interested in exploring more about food and eating rituals in Chinese culture, use this article as your guide.

The Etiquette at a Chinese Dinner Table


Start your meal with the dishes that are nearest to you. Use your chopsticks to add several servings to your plate before passing the dish to the person sitting next to you. When placing some pieces to your plate, make sure to never dig around looking for a specific piece of food because it is rude and unhygienic.

In addition, talking about one’s feelings or expressing affection can generally be difficult. However, family members from Chinese households found a way to show that they care about each other by placing a particularly good piece of food on their loved one’s plate.

Banquet or Formal Dinner

A formal dinner or banquet typically contains 12-16 dishes on the table. You can expect to be served with several cold dishes, like fruit or other items usually served chilled or at room temperature. There will also be 8-10 dishes of heated food items. On the other hand, very expensive or rare dishes are considered an honor to the guests.

Meal Time 

Meals convey the family hierarchy in China. For instance, the head of the household or the most esteemed guest will generally sit in the spot that faces the entrance to the dining area. The next important members will be seated to the left and to the right, and this hierarchy will continue on around the table. In other words, the youngest family member ends up directly across from the oldest.

The more traditional Chinese families hold respect and duty in high regard during meal times. After everyone has been seated, the youngest member will invite the eldest to enjoy the meal in the more traditional families. The best dishes will be served directly in front of the head of the family or guests. The head of the family will also be the first person to pick up their chopsticks and start the meal.

At the End of the Meal

After eating, the members will place their chopsticks neatly to the side of their bowl or plate. Chopsticks should never be left stuck inside the unfinished food or up from a rice bowl because it is seen as disrespectful. It is also against the proper etiquette to stick chopsticks up from a bowl at the dinner table because it invokes leaving incense on the altar of a dead ancestor.


The rules of eating etiquette may have changed over the years in the Chinese household, but some of their food and eating rituals remain to show a glimpse of what it means to be Chinese. So the next time you visit a Chinese dim sum restaurant or share a meal with a family in China, remember the information mentioned in this guide so you can have a more meaningful dining experience.

If you’re wanting to try a Chinese dining experience, order from Ocean Palace Restaurant. We serve Chinese seafood and dim sum in Houston

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