BACK TO THE BASICS 101
Obviously, you won’t run into any trouble eating at a Western restaurant or a really posh Chinese restaurants at a 5 star hotel.
However, points below are helpful when you venture to more local and authentic eats around town, and regardless, the Chinese eating etiquette tips will be helpful in general. Happy reading & eating!
One. Make reservations when possible.
There are over 7 million people in HK and at its most densely populated district, there are 57000+ persons per square kilometer. That means that if you’re dead set on going to a particular restaurant (& if it’s a good one), you won’t be the only one. Make a reservation to prevent disappointment, as some restaurants are fully booked purely on reservations and allot no space for walk-ins.
If the restaurant doesn’t allow for reservations, consider going earlier or later than the “regular” meal time (ie. 6pm or 9pm for dinner) and don’t go on the weekends. If you must go on a Saturday at 7pm, then be prepared to queue… It could be a very long time to an eternity, depending on the space and popularity of the venue (and Hongkees are really good and patient at queuing).
Two. Keep connected to be in-the-know of the newest, hippest, and trending restaurants with the Open Rice app.
Open Rice is the HK equivalent of Yelp, but the on-steroids version. It’s got the anything and everything you will need to know about the restaurants in HK. And if you get lost, there’s a map to help you out. In fact, if you have data during your stay in HK, just follow the dot on the screen and you will be led to your restaurant destination, just like that. Easy peasy.
Three. Bring tissue.
More likely than not, napkins are not going to be provided. And more likely than not, you’re going to want one sometime during your meal.
Four. Leave your bladder at home.
Use the loo before you get to the restaurant just to be safe. This is because if you go to a more local eatery the toilets:
- Might be nonexistent
- Might have no toilet paper (those tissues will once again come in handy)
- Might be absolutely disgusting
- Not be the standard toilet you’re accustomed to and a squat one instead (nudge nudge, I’m talking about you, Tsui Wah @ LKF)
Five. The washing segment! Wash your own dishes.
When the wait staff plops down a big ass bowl and tea pot in front of you – they’re telling you to wash your dishes.
Copy the others around you; stick your utensils, bowls, etc, into the big bowl and slosh the hot tea around the items to kill (hopefully) any germs and to rinse off any last food residue.
Six. Your tea.
- Always pour all the tea cups around you first, and pour your own cup last as a courtesy and respectful gesture.
- If your tea pot is empty, leave the lid half off (rather precariously it would seem) as an indication to get the teapot refilled.
If you’re drinking from a traditional tea cup, never leave the lid of the tea cup flipped over on the table. Don’t know exactly why but it’s one of those “reminiscent of another ritual done for the deceased” and is seen as a bad omen. The Chinese are rather superstitious if you haven’t already figured that out…
Give thanks when someone pours you tea by tapping your index and middle finger twice onto the table. Again, the urban legend told to me when I was young was that an undercover Emperor and his servant went out to town, and the Emperor poured the servant tea. The servant then tapped his two fingers onto the table as a sign of himself on his knees bowing to the Emperor in respect and thanks without giving away their real identities.
Seven. The number of dishes you order matter!
When you eat a normal Chinese meal, dishes are ordered and then piled onto the Lazy Susan for communal sharing (no major hoarding onto your own plate allowed) and to be eaten complementarily to your bowl(s) of rice. Count the number of dishes, and make sure it does not add up to 7 (the soup is part of the number count if you’ve ordered soup).
It’s a bad omen for several reasons. July is the Ghost month (time when the spirits come out) and July = 7. And more importantly, it is reminiscent of the Chinese funeral banquet that you eat after a funeral ceremony which is set at 7 dishes.
Eight. Your rice bowl.
Do not stick your chopsticks vertically into your rice bowl! This is reminiscent to the Chinese ritual where the Chinese stick incense sticks into a bowl of rice and left on the altar after praying to their ancestors. If you do this, you will be faced with a lot of venomous glares from elders, so, err on the side of caution and don’t leave your chopsticks stuck into your rice at any inclination. Leave the chopsticks flat across the top of your rice bowl or leave it on the table like any ordinary cutlery.
Eat up that rice and don’t leave any lonesome grains in the bowl. Rice is the main carb staple for the Chinese and they love it – you’re wasteful if that bowl ain’t spick and span. The urban legend told to my younger self is that the number of grains of rice left in the bowl is equivalent to the number of moles on your spouse’s face (YIKES!). And honestly, it just looks sloppy to have sporadic rice grains in your bowl so take what you can eat, and eat it up. Easy.
Nine. Time to pay-up.
If the bill with total is placed on your table, between the glass and the table, in between the chopstick holders or in the general vicinity of where you’re sitting, then it’s the indication that you take the aforementioned bill and you pay at the cashier when you’re done.
As a general rule, HK is more of a cash city… Keep cash on hand just in case restaurants don’t accept your plastic (cash only in taxis, but that’s another post for another time).
Ten. There is no need to add tip onto the total (unless otherwise stated).
Small establishments don’t expect tip, nor do they give good enough service to demand it. Most will not know what to do with the tip because they don’t have system for tips, and if the cashier is the owner, they will most likely just dump the $ into the till.
Other restaurants will already have the service charge added to your bill, anywhere ranging from 10%-15%.
THE BONUS ROUND
Copy the locals and do what they do. Hongkees know their food and are rarely wrong. Good restaurants OR new, trendy restaurants will attract loyal queue-rs. Not-so-good restaurants will be relatively empty. If you must go to an empty restaurant, make sure you do your homework and know why you want to go to that particular restaurant or perhaps the reason for the lack of patrons. You wouldn’t want to waste your food quota on a disappointing meal right? Or course, at the same time, you should throw caution to the wind, and maybe you’ll find a hidden gem.
If you don’t know what or how to order, look around and just replicate what others are doing, and what the most frequently ordered dishes are. And let’s not forget, a lot of us speak English and can help when asked.
Have fun & let us know how it goes. We always like to hear about chicken feet stories!