Chopsticks aren’t the only thing integral to the Chinese culinary experience. There are various other small traditions and practices that are exhibited in public in the form of table manners. They may not come to you as naturally as they would to a true blue Chinese person (and even then not everyone is familiar with all the Chinese traditions centered on food), it’s always good to know these things.
Even if non-natives are allowed a lot of leeway when it comes to these typical customs and traditions, it shows your consideration and thoughtfulness when you remember and put into practice some of the more common Chinese dining traditions.
Never place the chopsticks vertically upright in your bowl of rice
Even though this might be the most natural thing to do and the sticky rice accommodates the chopsticks in them very well, allowing you to sip Tsingtao or chai without having to do a juggling trick, for the Chinese placing your chopsticks vertically in your rice bowl is not only impolite, but also considered a symbol of death. It reminds them of the incense sticks that are burned in veneration for those who’ve crossed over.
So, avoid this rather dark and gloomy omen and place your chopsticks in one of the chopstick stands the restaurant provides. If it is a personal gathering at someone’s home, rest the chopsticks on the edge of your rice bowl.
It is impolite to turn over the Fish
In Chinese restaurants it is standard practice to serve the fish whole. So, once you’ve worked your way through the top side of the fish, you will find yourself naturally turning it over to continue onto the other side. Don’t do that. In Chinese regions that are solely, or at least mostly, dependent on fishing as a source of income, the fish symbolizes their vessel – the boat. Turning over the fish means you’ve capsized the boat and send the fisherman to his doom.
So, how do you eat the rest of the delicious fish? With the help of your chopsticks, remove the backbone from the fish, starting from a point near its tail. After this, all you have to do is slide the meat to the side of your plate and continue enjoying the delicious preparation.
Do not cut the birthday noodles
In Chinese tradition, the birthday boy or girl is asked to celebrate by slurping a bowl of noodles. Noodles, as you would have caught on by now, symbolize longevity. So, for obvious reasons you are not supposed to cut the noodles since it sends out the bleak message of having cut your life short.
Although you are never permitted to cut the noodles with chopsticks or knife, it is perfectly acceptable to do so with your teeth. The aim of this tradition is to bless you with a long life, not make you look like a blowfish.