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Chinese dining customs and chopsticks
Eating is an essential part of the Chinese culture. Much of Chinese life centers on food. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are many Chinese customs relating to dining or eating. It has been said that Chinese people eat everything with four legs except the table. Chinese children are taught traditional eating habits and eating patterns.
Chinese prefer round dining tables because more people can be seated around the table. A round table allows people to eat facing each other without differentiation. In other words, when seated at a round table every one is equal, regardless of their status and wealth.
Meal time is a time for family members to converse. The dining table is a place for discussing business, education and other interesting and important topics. Discussing gloomy matters such as death, accidents and other misfortunes is regarded as bad table manners.
It is customary for a bowl of soup to be placed in the center of the table. Soup is believed to be nutritious and a source of energy. Spoons are provided for each person to share the soup. Other dishes such as fish, vegetables, meat and eggs are placed around the table.
The use of chopsticks dates to ancient times when most Chinese were farmers and peasants. At mealtimes their hands were usually dirty, and the food was hot. The farmer didn’t want to use his dirty hands to pick up the food, nor did he want to burn himself, so he began using twigs to pick up the food. Since Chinese begin using chopsticks as children, they find them efficient and easy to use. Chopsticks are made from wood, bamboo or plastic and are held with the right hand. It is ill mannered and improper to play with chopsticks during meals.
Etiquette dictates how a diner's hands are used. The left hand holds the bowl while the right hand holds the chopsticks to pick up morsels of food and push it and rice from the bowl into the mouth.
The Chinese have four meals a day. For breakfast they usually eat porridge with salted vegetables, and steamed buns. Lunch is fairly simple. It usually consists of noodle soup, dim sun and rice with vegetables. Dinner is the main meal of the day, and is usually served at around 6 pm. Because dinner is early, there is usually a late night snack before bedtime, consisting of dim sun and porridge. The Chinese believe that a full stomach helps you sleep well and prepares you for another day of hard work.
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