I’ve met some really nice Chinese friends here at Qingdao University and several of them have invited me to their family homes for dinner. As having a foreigner around for dinner is a special occasion, normally 饺子, Chinese dumplings, are made. Everybody is expected to sit down on one of the tiny stools and lend a hand wrapping them up. Homemade Chinese dumplings are probably one of my favourite Chinese foods and I’m keeping note of the best ones I’ve had so far:
1. Allen’s Grandmother’s in 济南
2. Color’s Grandmother’s in 农村
3. Jim’s Mother’s in 青岛* pictured above.
Despite how much I love wrapping dumplings and eating them there’s one thing I don’t like about going to my Chinese friends house to eat….the eating part. Why? Because everybody encourages me to eat, eat, eat. When eating in China there are a mixture of dishes and plates in the middle of the table and everybody has their own chopsticks to take what they like. Because there are no individual plates of food it’s hard to see how much each person has eaten. So they tell me to eat more. I’ve discovered that the elder the person the more they will encourage me to eat. I respect grandparents very much so always feel obliged to eat when they point at the roast duck bowl. Here are some things I’ve noticed about eating at a Chinese family’s home:
- I have to do some stretches before and after to prepare my back for sitting down on that stool
- Leona, if you want to eat something from the other side of the table make sure you’ll be able to carry it back across the table to your mouth without dropping it
- Eat slowly! Eating dinner can take up to an hour so eating slowly and chewing a lot is better for digestion
- If I tell them that we don’t eat 西红柿鸡蛋, tomatoes and eggs, (or any other dish that’s on the table) in England, they will tell me to eat more of it
- Some dishes will be cold and not just the salad. There seems to be also a one-wok policy in China so each dish comes out of the kitchen one at a time
- You drink the soup from the bowl, if everybody used spoons there would be so much more washing up to be done!
- If you’re asked to toast always try to clink your glass lower than the other person to show that they have a higher status than you – but the Chinese may put their glass lower which makes things awkward
- Only say yes to drinking beer if you really want it. Even though the glass is small it’s expected to be downed and refilled whenever anybody says 喝酒 or 干杯 （drink up or cheers)
- If you propose a 干杯 – cheers, you’re asking everybody to down their drink so maybe wait until your glass is nearly empty
- Bones, shells and other uneaten bits of food are to be placed/spat out onto the table, it’s fine
- It seems the only acceptable thing to eat with your hands is chicken feet
- It’s a noisy affair with often three conversations happening at once and people talking with their mouths full
- The pattern seems to be that whilst making the 饺子 we will all talk together and the pace of the conversation is slow so I can understand but when it’s time to eat, everybody talks fast and I’m not expected to contribute, even if they are talking about me
- If you give a grandparent eye contact they will point at something and not stop pointing until you eat it
- Chinese people play things down a lot, so be prepared to hear comments like “I don’t know why you’ve come here, this is the worst kitchen in China” or “we’re the low of the low” despite their home being lovely and the food delicious!
- You can relax after eating dinner, there won’t be pudding but there may be dumpling soup.