Saturday, May 18, 2024

15 Things Expats Can Learn About Eating in Hong Kong

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I was once asked what could be my one-word description of Hong Kong. At the time, I could not describe it because my mind was filled with lots of Hong Kong characteristics: on-the-go, the city that never sleeps, very crowded, orderly chaos, etc. They don’t fit the one-word description I was asked about.

Now I have that description: vibrant.

One of the things that make Hong Kong vibrant is its thousands of restaurants that serve a variety of food from all corners of the world. Of course, Chinese food tops the list while Western, continental, and exotic dishes can be found everywhere as a testament to the multi-cultural nature of this place.

As a foreigner living in Hong Kong for the past several years, I have received invitations to Chinese meals at friends’ homes and in restaurants. There are many things that I still need to learn, from naming dishes to dining etiquettes.

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All these years, I have learned the following:

  1. At the beginning of meals in restaurants, tea is served not only for drinking but also for washing utensils. Of course, if you chose to do the latter, you must not drink the tea!
  2. It should be perfectly fine to lift my bowl and shove the food into my mouth with chopsticks; the same is valid with producing sound when slurping soup and noodles.
  3. It is perfectly fine to point out a dish eaten by someone else if I want to order it, and I don’t know what its name is.
  4. Hong Kong’s dai pai dongs are among the best places to hunt for delicious Chinese food, although they don’t look too hygienic. The dishes they provide earned them loyal patrons and stayed in business despite the emergence of more stylish competitors.
  5. While burping is abhorred in certain places (I noticed it in Austria), it’s a sign of a satisfying meal, and everyone doing so will please the hosts.
  6. It is expected in Hong Kong to share tables with strangers. With few seats on offer and dinner or lunch breaks expect surge of hungry clients, sharing of meals is a common practice. We share the table with these people, not the food, and it’s not unusual not to talk to them.
  7. It is an accepted practice to spit excess meat or bones onto the table. I still feel uneasy about it, but I respect people who do so.
  8. Service is fast so that when I order something, it reaches my table without too much waiting. When I am done, shop keepers also expect me to leave soon. Time and space are essential, so I need to be considerate, especially during busy hours.
  9. When served fish, don’t turn it over, or some misfortune could happen to you. I find this very interesting, and some friends don’t practice this one.
  10. When someone serves tea on my cup, I will tap the table with three fingers three times as a sign of gratitude. (I was told that this is symbolic of how Chinese people in the ancient times bow to the Emperor.)
  11. It is said that you must not eat the last piece of food on the plate, or you will remain single forever. I guess married people can freely finish off everything in sight.
  12. When paying by credit card, a computer printout shows “TIP” where you can write your tip. While I don’t think this is mandatory, it is a common practice to write an amount more or less 10% of the whole bill.
  13. The group usually does ordering food and drinks, and you must not order it separately (unless, of course, you are eating alone).
  14. Hosts often ask guests what type of food they want to eat. When asked, I usually say I eat everything but secretly hope I won’t see a snake soup served later.
  15. Bill is often understood as payable by the hosts. A guest insisting on paying for the meal only makes the hosts look bad.

Photo credit: Pixabay. License: CC0 Public Domain

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