Chinese dishes for Dinner
An Epic Meal
In case you haven’t noticed by now, Chinese people love to eat. They love it so much, in fact, that a very common greeting in China is “Have you eaten yet?” (你吃饭了吗? – nǐ chī fàn le ma). Nowhere is the love for all things food more common in China than at the dinner table. Simply put, Chinese people do not mess around when it comes to dinner. Whether eaten at home or in a restaurant, dinner tends to be a marathon eating session with multiple dishes. This should come as no surprise, seeing as how many people eat a quick meal for both breakfast and lunch as a result of busy work days. Dinner is a time to gather with family or friends, load your plate, chat, and often tip back a few drinks in the process. Needless to say, you’d better show up hungry if you’re doing dinner with Chinese people.
The Stages of a Chinese Dinner
Obviously, dinner customs and dishes vary greatly across the vast country. However, there are a few stages to a Chinese dinner that are pretty common. To start off, a lot of people like to eat cold dishes (凉菜 – liáng cài), sort of like how many Americans like to start off with a salad. Here are a few common cold dishes that start out a Chinese dinner:
cucumber salad (拍黄瓜 – pāi huáng guā)
“wood ear” mushrooms (木耳 – mù ěr)
lotus root (莲藕 – lián ǒu)
Whereas a Western dinner may continue with a main course paired with a few side dishes, things are a bit different in China. There isn’t really such a thing as a main course – rather, many dishes are brought out one at a time. Generally, there will be a few dishes with meat or fish, some vegetable dishes, and of course some staple foods such as rice, noodles, or dumplings.
Unlike in Western countries where soup (汤 – tāng) is traditionally served earlier on in the meal, the soup usually comes last in a Chinese dinner. So when you’re eating out in a real Chinese restaurant and they bring your fish before your soup, don’t worry – they didn’t forget it, they’re just following the standard Chinese custom.
Dessert isn’t exactly big in China, at least not accompanied with dinner. That’s probably because people already eat so much at dinner that there’s no room for dessert (甜点 – tián diǎn). If there is anything that would be considered dessert like, it’s probably going to be a fruit plate of some sort. It’s not that sweets aren’t popular in China – because they certainly are – just not at the dinner table.