Home: Chinese Etiquette: Chinese Buffet Culture

Understand the
Chinese Buffet Culture

chinese buffet culture
Having a Chinese meal with my friends has always been what I enjoy doing the most in Taiwan!

Chinese buffet culture relates to the importance of food in Chinese society. Food has been very important to the Chinese for centuries. It's not just important to sustain the population, but it's also important to bring them together. By understanding Chinese buffet culture you will get a much better understanding of how food is served and prepared in China.

Big Meals

If a Chinese family invites guests around, they will normally lay on a very big meal. This will quite often include rice and many side dishes. The number of dishes will depend on the number of guests being invited.

Buffet

It's Chinese tradition to put everything in the middle (of a round table usually) and share the dishes. This suits most people because they can try a little bit of everything and choose what they like. You will be served your own bowl of rice, but will need to share the other dishes.

This is also normally the same in restaurants. Sharing food is much more common in China and Taiwan than in the west. While at home you might get your own plate and food, this will only happen sometimes in China.

The buffet culture is very strong in China and Taiwan, and it can be seen to help bring families and communities together. This helps to spark up conversation and sharing is considered an important part of Chinese culture.

Greed

It's also important for the Chinese to offer you as much as you want. If they offer you a plate with a certain amount of food on, then they may assume they were calling you greedy. Instead, by sharing with other people, you are able to eat as much (or as little) as you want.

If you eat all your rice then expect the bowl to be filled up very quickly by you hosts. The Chinese take great pride in caring for their guests and do not like them to go hungry.

Chopsticks

Chopsticks are actually relatively easy to use; it just takes a bit of practice. If you have been invited for a Chinese buffet then it would be best if you know how to use them. However, if you don't then it's not the end of the world. Every Chinese household will have spoons which you can use if you prefer.

Full

Chinese people like to make sure that you are completely full, and will do this by making sure you have eaten enough. If you have had enough rice then it's a good idea to leave a bit in the bottom of the bowl because otherwise you will get it filled up again.

The same goes for drinks. It's also extremely difficult to refuse, because it is their culture to keep pushing and offering. This is because most Chinese people will refuse even if they do want something. Quite often you need to offer someone something a few times and force them to have it. This seems strange to a westerner and can take some getting used to.

Being invited to eat with a Chinese family is a real honor and something that you should find enjoyable. Don't get too worked up about making any mistakes though, they are normally fairly forgiving.

Other Facts About Chinese Buffet Culture

  • Do not plant your chopsticks in your rice bowl as it reminds Chinese people of incense sticks in a censer.

  • Wait for your host to raise his glass and make a toast before drinking alcohol. It's not uncommon in Chinese buffet culture to have toasts every single sip, even for beer. I still find this part a bit annoying - I'm a fast drinker and I don't like to have to wait to drink my beer.

  • Skin, bones, peels, shells, and other foods you can't or don't want to eat (fish eyes aren't for everyone!) can be put on a small plate, on a tissue, or directely on the table. Wait to see where other people are putting these scraps of food.

  • If you don't like a certain dish, don't put it back in the plate and don't say you dislike it. Simply leave it in your rice bowl and nobody will mention anything.

  • To make your hosts happy (and to give them face) at a Chinese meal, try to sample every dish on the table. Do not hesitate to say how good the food is. Another way to make your hosts happy is to eat a lot!

  • The golden rule to adapt well to Chinese buffet culture is very simple. Look and observe what other people are doing. Don't be nervous to make a "mistake" or to look like a fool. Chinese people are very understanding and they won't laugh at you or get offended if you drop cabbage in the duck soup.

Chinese Buffet Culture - Useful Expressions:

  • I like it. - Wo xihuan.
  • It's delicious. (for food) - Hao chi.
  • It's delicious. (for drinks) - Hao he.
  • I'm full. - Wo chi bao le.
  • Thank you. - Xie xie.

Read more about Chinese buffet culture...

Food in Taiwan
In Taiwan, food is as important as sleeping, working, and even breathing! This country really has a "food culture" and a trip around Taiwan, or even just Taipei, is like a visit to the world's best culinary museum.