Eating and drinking in Chinese culture is quite different to that of the West. The idea of Chinese dining etiquette is said to have come from the Zhou Dynasty (1045-256 BC) and is often a noisy and social affair. Dining in restaurants with friends, family or colleagues is enveloped in respect for your elders and superiors and making sure other members of your party are satisfied is extremely important.
Although the conversation around the table does not just focus on the food (although discussing dishes is often a big part), here are some words and phrases that would be used whether you are being treated to dinner by your boss, socialising with friends or having a family dinner.
Getting a Table and Ordering
你饿了吗？(nǐ è le ma?) Are you hungry?
我饿死了！(wǒ è sǐ le) I’m starving!
我肚子饿了。(wǒ dù zi è le) I’m hungry.
我不饿。(wǒ bù è) I’m not hungry.
我不太饿。(wǒ bù tài è) I’m not very hungry
我想吃。。。(wǒ xiǎng chī) I want to eat….
我不想吃。。。(wǒ bù xiǎng chī) I don’t want to eat…
坐这里。 (zuò zhè lǐ) Sit here.
随便坐。(suí biàn zuò) Sit where ever you want.
请清理一下。(qīng lǐ yī xià) Please clean the table.
还有更好的座位吗？(hái yǒu gèng hǎo de zuò wèi ma) Do you have a better table? (nicer place)
你喜欢吃辣吗？(nǐ xǐ huan chī là ma?) Do you like spicy food?
你点菜了吗？(nǐ diǎn cài le ma?) Have you ordered?
服务员 (fú wù yuán) Waiter
美女 (měi nǚ) Female waitress (beautiful girl)
请给我菜单。(qǐng gěi wǒ cài dān) Please give me the menu.
随便 (suí biàn) You choose
我来点菜。(wǒ lái diǎn cài) I will order for us.
If you go out to eat with Chinese friends or colleagues, it is customary for the host to choose the food, so often only one menu is provided, even if there is a large party. This kind of situation happens more often in a formal situation especially if the host would like to impress business partners or associates with good food. Amongst younger friends, you can ask who wants to order, but also ask what that the others would like to eat. Once the host has ordered all the food is placed in the center, often on a lazy susan, so that everyone can help themselves to the dishes. If you’re visiting a western-style restaurant the service will be similar to a Chinese restaurant, and so you may need to ask for another menu.
请再给我一个菜单。(qǐng zài gěi wǒ yī gè cài dān) Please give me another menu.
请给我一双筷子。(qǐng gěi wǒ yī shuāng kuài zi) Please give me a pair of chopsticks
勺子 (sháo zi) Spoon
纸巾 (zhǐ jīn) Tissues
If you eat in a Chinese restaurant, chopsticks and spoons will be the only utensil available to eat with. Furthermore, touching food with your fingers is usually frowned upon, so learning to use chopsticks before travelling to China is advisable. Of course, as a foreigner, you can usually get away with sloppy chopstick skills, and you will probably get a few laughs at the table before someone starts to put food in your bowl to save you some face.
你想喝饮料吗？(nǐ xiǎng hē yǐn liào ma?) Would you like a drink?
你渴吗？(nǐ kě ma?) Are you thirsty?
我渴了。(wǒ kě le) I’m thirsty.
我不渴。(wǒ bù kě) I’m not thirsty.
我不太渴。(wǒ bù tài kě) I‘m not very thirsty.
我不想喝。(wǒ bù xiǎng hē) I don’t want to drink.
我想喝。(wǒ xiǎng hē) I want to drink.
Although beer, wine and (expensive) spirits are consumed more and more in China, the Chinese speciality 白酒 (bái jiǔ) is still a must-have at business dinners and special occasions. Most of the time, customers take their own alcohol to a restaurant. If we translate 白酒 (bái jiǔ) directly into English, the result would be ‘white wine’. However, 白酒 (bái jiǔ), is actually a spirit, distilled from grains. It tends to be extremely strong and also an acquired taste. As it is often 干杯 (gān bēi)-ed from shot glasses the flavour is not often the focus, which could be a blessing or a curse.
If you’ want to drink actual ‘white wine’, make sure to ask for 白葡萄酒 (bái pú tao jiǔ), which means ‘white grape wine’.
你想喝点什么？ (nǐ xiǎng hē diǎn shén me?) What would you like to drink?
啤酒(pí jiǔ) Beer
酒 (jiǔ) Wine
威士忌 (wēi shì jì) Whiskey/Whisky
果汁 (guǒ zhī) Fruit juice (fruit + 果汁)
苏打水 (sū dá shuǐ) Soda
水 (shuǐ) Water
If you ask for water in a Chinese restaurant, it will normally be hot or warm water. To make sure you get room temperature or cold water, ask for the following:
冰水 (bīng shuǐ) ice water
冷水 (lěng shuǐ) cold water
干杯! (gān bēi) Cheers
干杯 (gān bēi) does not really translate to ‘cheers’, it means ‘dry glass’, although the meaning behind it is the same. If someone says ‘干杯’ (gān bēi) you are expected to down the glass of whatever you are drinking. No matter whether you are drinking 白酒 (bái jiǔ), 红酒 (hóng jiǔ) or very expensive whiskey, you would usually 干杯 (gān bēi). If you aren’t feeling the 干杯 (gān bēi) , you could always suggest ‘半杯’ (bàn bēi) , meaning a ‘half glass’. You can also call 随意 (suí yì) meaning ‘at will’, so you are free to drink as little or as much as you wish.
Like in the west, it is customary to ‘clink’ glasses when 干杯 (gān bēi)-ing. It is respectful to clink below the rim of your hosts glass.
这是我的。(zhè shì wǒ de) This is mine.
这是他的。(zhè shì tā de) This is his.
和他一样。(hé tā yī yàng) I want to order the same as him.
你醉了吗？ (nǐ zuì le ma?) Are you drunk?
我醉了！(wǒ zuì le) I’m drunk!
多喝一点。(duō hē yī diǎn) Drink more!
我喝得太多了。(wǒ hē de tài duō le) I drank too much.
少喝点儿。(shǎo hē diǎnr ) Don’t drink so much!
宿醉 (sù zuì) Hangover
好吃吗？(hǎo chī ma?) It is delicious?
闻起来很香! (wén qǐ lai hěn xiāng) It smells delicious!
看起来很好吃！(kàn qǐ lái hěn hǎo chī) It looks delicious!
开吃了！(kāi chī le) Let’s eat!
自己来。(zì jǐlái) Help yourself.
这个很好吃。(zhè ge hěn hǎo chī) This is delicious.
辣不辣？(là bù là) Is it spicy?
不太辣。(bù tài là) Not too spicy.
吃吃看。(chī chī kàn) Try eating some.
我不太喜欢。(wǒ bù tài xǐ huan) I don’t like it very much.
很贵。(hěn guì) It’s expensive.
很便宜。(hěn pián yi) It’s cheap.
这个难吃死了。(zhè ge nán chī sǐ le) This is awful.
多吃点儿。(duō chī diǎnr) Eat more!
再给我一点。(zài gěi wǒ yī diǎn) Please give me a little more.
你吃饱了吗？(nǐ chī bǎo le ma?) Are you full?
我吃饱了。(wǒ chī bǎo le) I‘m full.
我吃的太多了。(wǒ chī de tài duō le) I ate too much.
买单 (mǎi dān) Bill, please.
It is not customary to tip in China, although in some restaurants they can tack on ‘extras’ such as tissues, tea and even boxes for takeaway. In general, eating in Chinese restaurants is not too expensive, whereas western-style restaurants will be much more than their western counterparts.