Posted by gblog On February - 1 - 2013

For first time travelers visiting China, ordering authentic Chinese food can be daunting and full of potential pitfalls. Rather than being fearful and sticking to the fairly commonplace Western style restaurants found in China’s major cities, visitors should take a deep breath and enjoy the unique foods found in China.

Choosing a Chinese Restaurant

When visiting China you will soon realize there is an enormous number of restaurants to choose from. There are sidewalk food sellers with plastic lawn tables and chairs on the street and literal holes in the wall on one end, with high class fine dining that will cost hundreds of dollars on the other, with hundreds of restaurants in between.

Before choosing a Chinese restaurant, decide how adventurous you are. Chinese restaurants are not as clean as Western restaurants, and the hygiene certificates posted at most restaurants are not worth the paper they’re written on. If the restaurant owner pays enough money most health inspectors will ignore all but the worst offenders. On the other hand if the health inspector is annoyed they may give a clean restaurant a bad grade out of spite.

That being said generally the higher priced restaurants are cleaner. So if you have a weak stomach spending more money may be good idea.

For the more adventurous, the cheaper restaurants could be a better choice. They may not look as clean but smaller restaurants often serve food as good as the bigger restaurants for a cheap price. Chinese food alleys are known world wide as the place to eat authentic Chinese food at good prices, but most of these small restaurants would be called unsafe in the West.

The best way to decide which restaurant to eat at is to see if its busy or not. If there are many people there the food is likely edible and tasty. If the restaurant is deserted it could mean there’s a problem with food. You should also think about how much money they have and want to spend. There are many things to pay for in China from entering tourist sites to buying gifts for friends and families, spending it all on food while tasty could be unwise.

Ordering Food in China

Ordering food is the second biggest challenge for tourists. Unless you can read Chinese, the menu is often incomprehensible unless there are pictures included, and you will be forced to order at random. Fortunately Chinese restaurants have ways to deal with this problem.

The first way is found at Chinese restaurants that deal with Westerners frequently. They will often have a menu written in English conveniently available for tourists, this makes ordering easy, and convenient, just make sure the server see’s exactly what you’re pointing at.

Other restaurants may not have an English menu, but they will have lots of pictures. This is almost as good, as you can simply point at what looks good.

Another way to order food if an English menu is not available or it doesn’t have pictures is to walk around the restaurant looking at what other people are eating. Most Chinese people won’t get upset if a foreigner looks at them or their food, they will likely smile and say hello. When you see something you like, point to the food and point at the menu, the restaurant staff will point out the item on the menu showing you how much it costs.

Eating Chinese Food

The problem with smaller restaurants is that they often don’t have Western utensils. Most small restaurants only have chop sticks and large Chinese spoons. For the inexperienced this can make eating difficult, as using chopsticks for the first time is awkward.

Fortunately if the restaurant isn’t very busy the staff will often try to help. The impromptu instructor may laugh as he’s helping you, but they can provide vital help in enjoying real Chinese food.

If you can’t or doesn’t want to learn how to use chopsticks, carry a knife and fork in a small plastic bag in your bag. Many Westerners living in China do so, to avoid dropping their food.

Enjoying truly authentic Chinese food is one of the joys of visiting China. Tourists who insist on eating Western food are missing a great opportunity to enjoy real Chinese food often cooked right before their eyes. To get the most out of your visit to China, spend some time wandering through the huge variety of large and small Chinese restaurants.

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Dan Clarke is a travel writer who has lived in China for 6 years, and has written extensively about his experiences in China. You can find out more about China by visiting his website, Living and Working in China.

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Categories: Asia

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