Let me start by sharing these two facts about me: I’m a huge foodie and Chinese food is an irresistible family favorite. I love everything about food whether it’s home cooking, gourmet dining, or searching for the most delicious palate. When I eat with my Chinese friends in the States, they always ask for the “real” menu. The notion of a secret menu that caters to a Chinese palate and another that offers Western-friendly options was very peculiar to me. Naturally, I was ecstatic to try authentic Chinese cuisine.
Chinese people are some of the most hospitable folk I’ve met in my life. When I arrived in Shanghai, my friend Alvin invited me to join him and a Canadian expat for an authentic Sichuan hotpot called Là Fû. Alvin ordered many dishes such as frog, rabbit head, cow intestine, brain, ox tail, and tongue. Initially, I was nervous about trying some of these but they were surprisingly delicious. It was there that I received my first lesson in the cultural differences between China, America, and Egypt.
First, the Chinese version of spicy is something you should probably avoid unless you’re a fire-breather or a dragon. Another part of Chinese etiquette is making sure that your guest has enough to eat. If your host sees that you have finished your plate that is his cue to order more. By the time I realized this, I felt like a turkey on Thanksgiving Day—stuffed. Alvin was very adamant about paying which brings me to my third lesson: The person who extends the invitation is usually the one who will foot the bill.
Last weekend, my roommate and I journeyed from our apartment to The Bund in search of Din Tai Fung. In 1993, this restaurant was rated top ten in the world and featured Shanghai’s most famous dumplings. We finally found it after an hour of walking and although the portions were small, it exceeded every expectation. This week my friend Nick came to visit and took me to a Korean barbecue called “B.C. 2333” where I was treated to the best Korean food I’ve had thus far. Afterwards, they took me on a native tour of Shanghai and I felt as if I was seeing the city for the first time.
There are many differences between the Chinese and Western style of dining. In both cultures, eating out is a way of socializing, but in China there is a greater emphasis on sharing and being a good host. Something I really admire about this culture is the round table style of dining. It is very personable and I like being able to share dishes with my friends. Finally, I would recommend bringing a Chinese friend with you because it is extremely difficult to order authentic food without speaking Mandarin. Unless you’re eating pizza with Italians, nobody knows pizza better than Italians.