Many people find ordering a Chinese meal something of an ordeal. Menus are enormous and names are often unfamiliar. This is compounded in Shenzhen by the fact that menus are usually only in Chinese. But this should not put you off. Most menus have pictures of the main dishes and, by following a few simple rules, you can quickly become an expert orderer.

Rule 1: Chinese meals are eaten in common. You order a number of dishes that are placed together in the middle of the table. Don’t expect to order a dish to be exclusively eaten by you. The waiter will not understand what you’re talking about. This usually means that one person will do all the ordering although obviously in a casual meal everybody will have a view on what should be ordered.

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In a formal meal, the courses will often be brought one by one, but this does not apply in a casual meal where the dishes will appear in no particular order. Thus the concept of entrees, main courses, etc. does not exist in traditional Chinese eating.

Rule 2: A simple rule of thumb is one dish for each person plus a soup and a bowl of rice per head. So four people will have four dishes, four bowls of rice and one soup, five people will have five dishes, five bowls of rice and one soup. The waiter will tell you if what you’ve ordered is too little or too much.

The food is taken with chopsticks on the rice. One of the dishes should be a vegetable. There are usually vegetables of the day. Many restaurants will automatically bring fruit to finish a meal.

Rule 3: Try to vary the dishes by taking one from chicken, one from seafood, one from pork etc.

Rule 4: Slightly more complicated, but a meal tastes better if you can vary tastes and textures. At its simplest, this means try to get one stewed dish, one stir-fry, one steamed dish and one deep fried dish. If this seems too difficult, don’t get flustered. Simply, following the previous rules will give you a very satisfactory meal.

Rule 5: Fried or soup noodles make a good meal for one. Strictly speaking, fried rice is a dish for the end of a formal meal incidentally, the cognoscenti eat it with a spoon, not chopsticks but nobody will laugh too loud if you order it as a simple lunch for one.


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