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Chinese Dinner vs. Western Dinner

There are several aspects of differences between Chinese dinner and western dinner including dinner procedure, dinner instruments, way of serving, structure of dishes etc.

A Comparison of Dinner Procedure

Western dinner

  • Starter: vegetable salad or soup
  • Main Course: the most typical main course would be fillet beaf or chicken or fish.
  • Dessert: After the main course, normally some sweat food are servered, which can be icecream, cakes, fruits, pastries etc etc.
  • Coffee: After the table is cleared, coffee is served. This is normally the very last course.

Chinese dinner

  • Tea
  • Appetiser / starter: Chinese starters are normally cold dishes. Main materials in Chinese starters can be either vegetables or meat that has been cooked and then cooled down. Soysauce, vinegar, and hot peper oil etc are often used as flavoring in these cold dishes.
  • Dishes: In Chinese food culture, many dishes can be ordered if a group of people sit around one table. Types of Chinese dishes are just too many to enumerate. There are eight major regional cuisines in China, each of which has a series of typical dishes of its own. Beer, wine or alcohol can be taken together with dishes.
  • Main course The main course the Chinese people refer to are not dishes, but rice or wheat food like noodle or bun. This might be a major difference between Chinese food culture and western food culture. This difference has been formed due to the different food structure and different food concept. In traditional Chinese yin-yang theory's point of view, meats are not balanced in terms of yin-yang. So Chinese people do not take them as the main course. In a big banquet with a lot of dishes, people may not be able to eat much rice any more after having many kinds of dishes, but people normally would still have a small bowl of rice or noodle.
  • Soup Chinese soup are served after main dishes. This is another difference between Chinese food culture and western food culture.
  • Fruits The most typical dessert in Chinese dinner are fruits. High quality restaurants would often assemble a big plate with several types of fruits arranged in beautiful patterns. Most favorable fruits might be watermelon and pear, which can make one feel clean and clear in one's mouth and stomach after the meal.

Serving dishes at the center of table vs. In each one's own plate

One of the biggest differences between Chinese dinner and western dinner might be the position on table where dishes are served.

In western dinner, dishes are served in each person's own plate. So each person uses a big plate. Dishes are put to each person's own plate before serving. In western restaurants, everyone orders the three courses for oneself.

In Chinese dinner, dishes are served at the middle of table for all to share, and each person uses a small plate in front him or her to hold the food one has picked from the shared dishes. Foods are taken from the plates at the center of the table into one's own plate during the course of the meal. One takes as much as one can finish. This custom also applies to starters/appetisers. However, as for Chinese dinner main course like rice or noodle, they are often served to each person separately in a small bowl.

When several people go out for dinner, the Chinese way of haing dinner is helpful to make everyone enjoy a diversified meal, because everyone can order a different kind of dish make it shared by all.

This dinner culture difference has brought about a trouble and embarrassment to Chinese restaurant owners in western countries because western people would only order those dishes that they think would be suitable to be the main course. As for many other Chinese dishes, western people would never order them. So gradually Chinese restaurants in western countries are only providing some Chinese dishes that can fit in western people's three-course meal structure. Many other types of dishes that cannot fit in the three-course structure are cut off from the menu. There are also some Chinese restaurants providing different menus to Chinese customers from western customers. Some Chinese restaurants even have adapted their way of cooking to fit western people's taste. This is the reason why Chinese restaurants in western countries become westernized.

I have an Irish friend who has married with a Chinese lady. His wife's help has enabled him to try those dishes that normally western people would never touch. He thus has discovered that the dishes in even small Chinese restaurants are wonderful.

Chicken Breast vs. Chicken Necks / Feets.

There are some other interesting differerence between Chinese food culture and western food culture.

In western supermarkets, chicken breast is the most expensive part among all parts of chicken, while other parts are relatively cheaper. Chicken jaws and necks are just disarded and never sold in western supermarkets.

However, in China, people would regard that meat being close to bones are more tasty than big chunk of meat. Some Chinese people have special interest in having the little chicken meat that can be got from the necks and feets. In China chickens jaws and chicken necks won't be cheap because a reasonable amount of jaws and neckes can only be obtained from a lot of hens and cocks.

In western dishes, fish dishes are served absolutely free from bones. If a guest finds bones in the dish, it would be regarded as being too horrible. In Chinese meals, fish are normally served as a whole and removing bones is regarded as a normal part of the meal process.

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