Dining in China

Every culture and country has their own style of food that everyone can appreciate. While traveling in China, you’ll come across many strange and exciting new cuisines. Ranging from scorpions to donkey, you are sure to try something you’ve never seen eaten before.

In America, servers live on tips while earning a very small hourly wage, but in China, they are paid a living wage and it can even be thought of as an insult if you leave a tip.

“The biggest difference for me was that you don’t tip the wait staff like you do in America,” says Caroline Pimental, a Penn State senior.

That, along with serving water hot, is one of the cultural differences that may surprise you in China. It is thought that if you are going to drink with a meal, then a hot beverage such as water or tea will help aid in your digestion.

Photo taken by Sarah Price

While traveling in Beijing, you will most likely walk down Wangfujing Street. This is considered a ‘snack street’ where tourists can peruse a wild array of quick bites – from colorful candies to scorpions wriggling on sticks before they are fried.

Photo by Sarah Price

More than anything, however, there is one important aspect of dining in China: knowing when something is authentic. While the scorpions may seem exciting they are not something that is consumed on a regular basis by locals.

Donkey, on the other hand, is a kind of meat that is consumed almost as much as duck. It can be served in the form of a burger, on a sandwich or even in dumplings. The flavor is similar to beef, but even more tender.

It is important to have an open mind when traveling to another country because what might seem extreme to you is very normal for natives.

“I saw sheep penis on a menu and tried it because I knew I’d never get to anywhere else. It was $3 and just tasted like a tendon, but I’d probably do it again,” says Olivia Sun, a recent graduate from the University of Iowa.

Another more common food eaten in China is fried squid. On menus and snack streets alike, fried squid is a quick and easy treat when served on a stick. While you might carry around a basket of chicken strips in America, it is not uncommon to see a filet squid shish kebob while strolling around Beijing.

Photo taken by Sarah Price

Of course, all of these new foods are accompanied by another cultural custom – chopsticks. It can take some adjusting to eat with chopsticks considering all of the pasta and rice consumed during meals, but it is not impossible. Make sure you can practice eating with chopsticks before traveling to China because spotting a fork at dinner time will prove to be a rare sight.

“Eating etiquette in China is pretty starkly different; rice is a huge staple and so is sharing as a gesture (i.e. other people forking their food over into your bowl) or using a lazy susan. Knives aren’t usually provided because they’re seen as violent and tipping doesn’t exist. But slurping your noodles is totally polite,” says Sun.

The food can be intimidating at times but a large part of the Chinese dining culture revolves around sharing. Whether that means eating hot pot, where you share everything on your table, or just making sure that you aren’t wasting food that could be eaten by others, a communal ideal is an important aspect of the dining experience.


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