Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hào Chī - Good Eats!

Picture Menus are the Bomb!

Our knowledge of the Chinese culture is growing.  It's a hot topic on Cricket's Voice. Surely my observations resonate with gobs of personal opinions and generous pinches of generalizations, but a flock of you remain curious, so I will 'let it fly!'

I think some of the most interesting observations I've made revolve around the topic of Food and Meals. No surprise in a culture where eating is the center of socialization, family and business transactions. 

Here are some of the conclusions that have surfaced through many China restaurant meals:

Mrs. Pete & Me

  • No one will DIE of a dreadful disease if we share our food.
When ordering from a menu, the custom is to order several dishes that are placed in the center of the table or on a large "lazy Susan" and then to share them with everyone at the table. This works well, unless a certain someone is in the habit of guarding and protecting their meat. If this is the case, it is wise to order a duplicate dish so that the beast gets fed. (I didn't name names and it's not the fellow you see below.)

GWJ2 - A little Nanjing Noodling

  • Dig in while it's hot.
In a restaurant an order does not arrive all at once. Food arrives as the cook prepares it and is often 'checked' off of the bill as it's plopped down.  Dishes are not held in the kitchen until the entire order is ready.  In other words, being Western-polite and waiting for everyone at a restaurant table to be served together, just is NOT going to happen. 

J & A in Beijing
  • Wait-staff only come when summoned.
The fúwùyuán (attendant) arrives at your table to take your order, bring you food, and bring your bill but ONLY when summoned. A very loud shout of "Fúwùyuán!" will bring her/him your way.  They aren't working for tips (they don't tip in China) and they figure if you want them you will call out to do so. This is very different than the USA.  It would be considered VERY rude to call out "Waitress!" in a US restaurant.  (The only exception would be my father and his buddies who while at the bar many years ago beckoned any waitress by calling out "Nurse!" just for chuckles and attention. And she....yes, it was always a she....hopped on over to provide the next round.)

  • Special orders
Ordering a dish say, without mushrooms or mayo, or with cucumbers instead of pickles, etc. will get you looks like you just jumped off the wrong bus on the wrong street, in the wrong city, naked.  In other words, how they prepare the listed dish is the ONLY way it comes, so save your breath.  Oh, you can try to customize.  I have a vegan friend who is quite successful in ordering with her Mandarin list of acceptable and unacceptable ingredients. But for the most part the order taker will suddenly appear deaf in both ears to your request.  We've learned to pick out what we aren't interested in eating.

A restaurant owner asked me once, "Why is it you Americans want everything 'special' or 'without this or that?'  Can't you just order what's on the menu?"

I remained mute.  But I wanted to defend the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave and launch into what it really means to be a US citizen and the privilege of choice and the cost of freedom, etc.  Silence wasn't easy, friends.
Quack and the Big Guy

  • Bring It, Baby
This culture is very aware of rank.  Higher rank, higher status, means more influence.   In entering a restaurant for a meal you will most likely interact with all of these folks during your food break:

Greeter or two
Hostess to Seat You
Drink Menu and Food Menu person
Order Taker
Beverage Toter or two
Food Toter or two
Dish Clearer
& Back to the Order Taker

Each task is performed by someone in a uniform determined by their job and rank.  I know this isn't that foreign in fine restaurant dining in the USA, but I'm talking about Pizza Hut, here.

  • Are they open or what?
It is not uncommon to approach a restaurant about 1:30pm and be shoo-ed away.  That's because at 2:00pm the lights will go out and the entire staff will put their heads down on the table to nap before the dinner hour which begins a couple hours later. I liken it to the Siesta in the Latin American countries where it's just too dang hot to work so a break is imminent.

Beijing Restaurant ~Hua's

  • Míngpiàn?  - (Business Card?)

My Favorite are filled with Shrimp
Finished with your meal? The wait staff won't approach you with your bill until summoned. "Fúwùyuán!" - remember? Upon arriving with the bill she'll announce the total and she won't go away until you pay her, right there on the spot, in CASH.  As you waddle out, because, yes, you ate too much, be sure and stop at the entrance desk for a míngpiàn so that you can show your taxi driver how to get back at some future date.  Oh, heck, take a few and give one to your friends when they ask,

"Where did you eat this weekend?"

Hào Chī - Good Eats!

It's official, we've hit a milestone.   
We have lived in Nanjing, China for one entire year!

March 30, 2011

is our anniversary date of disembarking from Delta Flight #181 and planting wobbly sea-legs onto the China soil.  We head into our second and third year of this adventurous assignment with more language skills and greater cultural understanding. We've made new friends yet accept the ever-fleeting reality that people 'move on.'  Farewells and Best Wishes are just part of the plan.
We've 'paid it forward' by helping new ex-pats settle in and have relied on seasoned ex-pats, new friends and co-workers for so much. The love and support of family and friends back in the States has been immeasurable and humbling.  And we are grateful to ALL of them.

The conviction to make these three years with FORD of Asia-Pacific three of the best years of our lives is coming true.

Cheers and Thanks for following me and the Big Guy during the First Year of our Journey.

And yes, in looking ahead we say in unison "Bring it, Baby!"

Thanks for Reading,

Best Beijing Restaurant - Liu Home



Becca said...

Congratulations on One Year! Your willingness to embrace new experiences always inspires me!

This was so interesting to read. I knew about the lazy susan thing, and the food sharing. The other info was news to me. Thanks for the education!

Abbey Moore Photography said...

Wow! One year! That happened really fast! Can't believe it was a year ago we sat down at Cosi in East Lansing, and ate a meal, all together, at the same time! :) IT's great how well you guys have adjusted to the changes... I can't imagine it's easy!

Miss you and love reading your blog!

Love, Abbey

ahagelthorn said...

It is hard to believe it has already been a year. I enjoy reading your posts, and after re-reading them again, it is very interesting to watch the development and adaptation to your new environment. Continue to learn, grow, and have fun! It is an experience of a lifetime.

Becky in Alaska said...

I noticed in Rio and Buenes Aires that most of the restaurants had menus with photos which really helped when ordering unfamiliar food. Many also had English menus which just keeps us Americans lazy with language, but I'm grateful. In Russia, they do a lot of buffet-kinda style where you can point and the servers have learned to say "fish" in English so you have some clue. Of course, in Siberia, most of the meat is ground brown stuff, so it really doesn't matter. You then weigh your plate and pay by the kilo.
When I go to restaurants here in the States, I notice that we don't do much to help tourists out.