When you get hitched, you marry into your spouse's family, which means double the feasting for Chinese New Year, double the red packets, double the superstitions … you get the idea. If this is your first time attending or hosting a reunion dinner, you might want to arm yourself with this quick survival guide!
1. Let the most distinguished face the entrance
According to Chinese custom, the seat facing east or toward the entrance of the restaurant is the seat of honour, bestowed to the most respected family member, like the grandfather or grandmother. Flanking them are the rest of the guests in order of hierarchy, and in descending order. In some instances, the host takes the least prominent chair normally nearest the kitchen or toilets.
2. Serve from oldest to youngest
Out of respect for the elders, we should always let them have first dibs of freshly-served dishes. If your nephew brought his girlfriend along, make him serve her as she's an invited guest. Don't start to eat until everyone's plate is filled and wait for the cue to dig in from the host himself.
3. Order an even number of dishes
At Chinese celebrations, always order an even number of dishes because an odd number is normally served for funerals. Every dish has symbolic meaning or bear names that sound like the Chinese characters for fortune, happiness, longevity and prosperity. For example, soup denotes prosperity, fish for abundance, veges for freshness and good fortune, and uncut noodles for longevity.
4. It's ok to not finish
Abundance represents an excess of good fortune for the year. The fish, for example, should have uneaten parts. Normally, no one cooks (or cleans) on the first day of Chinese New Year, so your leftovers will come in very handy!
5. Fingertap for tea
When the waiter pours tea into your cup, you can tap the table with your first two fingers two or three times, showing thanks and of being enough tea. The pourer will stop pouring when seeing the gesture.
6. Don't poke around the dish
It's very tempting to dig around at the plate to find the best slice of chicken, but to the Chinese, it bears similarity to grave digging. Oh dear!
7. Don't stand chopsticks upright
Avoid sticking chopsticks into your rice in upright fashion, because it makes people think of funerals, and joss sticks stuck in a pot of rice at the altar.
8. Never turn over the fish
Fish is metaphor for a boat. To flip it over is to capsize the ship! Instead of turning it, strip away the bone and cast it aside, then proceed to dig in.
10. Pay compliments
Asians are such a modest lot and tend to say negative things about themselves in the hope that guests will pay them compliments. So come prepared with nice things to say!
10. Give red packets to the servers
In many Chinese restaurants, a waiter or two will be assigned to your table to introduce each dish with its respective meaning. They will also prepare the yu sheng dish for tossing and dispense good wishes. For doing that, the host should offer a little monetary token of appreciation in the form of a red packet.
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