Mastering a Chinese Banquet

A Chinese Banquet is usually held to celebrate festivals and other special occasions. Each event is associated with particular treats. A banquet acquires much of its festive character through 2 elements: the release from some everyday eating customs and the exaggeration of others. At a banquet, for example, rice doesn't need to be treated as the center of the meal, but the respectful interaction between guest and host, a commonplace, must be performed with extra gusto.

Seating Arrangements
Seating arrangements, which are based on rank, are stricter than in the West. Guests should never assume that they may sit where they please and should wait for hosts to guide them to their places. Traditionally, the Chinese regard the right side as the superior and the left side as the inferior. Therefore on formal occasions, including meetings and banquets, the host invariably arranges for the main guests to sit on his right side.

Serving the Meal
It is the host's responsibility to serve the guests, and at very formal banquets people do not begin to eat until the principal host served a portion to the principal guest. Or, the host may simply raise his chopsticks and announce that eating has begun.

The meal begins with a toast by the host, after which there is a long moment while the guests engage in the ceremony of beginning -- the degree of politeness exhibited by a guest at this stage increases with every moment he waits to start eating.

What to Drink
Drinking takes an important place in Chinese banquets. Often beer, yellow rice wine and strong white liquor are served at a Chinese banquet. During the meal, you can hear people saying “Gan Bei” when toasting each other, which means “cheers” or “bottom up”. People “Gan Bei” to communicate the message that they are sincere and joyful.

The Course
In a dramatic reversal of everyday habit, banquets consist solely of special dishes. The meat and vegetables that serve as side dishes at regular meals become the focus, and fan, or grain, which is normally so important that every last grain must be consumed, is relegated to the very end of the meal and guests need only to pick at the fan, indicating their supreme satisfaction.