Hong Kong, though once controlled by the British, remains quintessentially Chinese, though its role as a port and trade center reflects a mix of cooking styles from a wide range of Chinese regional cuisines.
The use of toothpicks at a table is another standard practice. As in most Asian countries, the polite way to deal with lodged fragments of food is to cover one's mouth with one hand while the tooth pick is being used with the other. Toothpicks are frequently used between courses as it is believed that the tastes of one course should not be allowed to mar one's enjoyment of the next course.
Toothpicks have another major value. They are ideal, and socially acceptable, for picking up those meal items which often defy the best chopstick approach—slippery button mushrooms and jelly-fish slices (do not attempt to eat peanuts unless you are a chopstick master!).
The handling of rice with chopsticks is also known to present problems, unless the rice has been dampened by juices from main dishes and is therefore more manageable. The socially-acceptable method for eating rice is to bring one's bowl close to one's mouth and quickly scoop the rice into it with one's chopsticks; this is difficult for the foreigner and so simply lifting portions of rice to the mouth from the bowl held in the other hand is perfectly acceptable. Do not attempt to eat rice from a bowl sitting on the table—no one else will!
One chopstick craft which a visitor is not advised to try is the deboning of a fish when its top half has been eaten, without turning it over. The careful separation of the fish skeleton from the lower half of the flesh will usually be performed by the host or a waiter.
The reason why a fish will never be turned over is a traditional superstition, and a tribute to South China's fishing families—bad luck would ensue and a fishing boat would capsize if the fish were up-ended.
There are superstitions associated with chopsticks too. If you find an uneven pair at your table setting, it means you are going to miss a boat, plane or train. Dropping chopsticks will inevitably bring bad luck, as will laying them across each other. Crossed chopsticks are, however, permissible in a "dim sum" restaurant. Your waiter will cross them to show that your bill has been settled, or you can do the same to show the waiter that you have finished and are ready to pay the bill.
Now you are well-equipped to be really a part of the Chinese dining experience!
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This page modified January 2007
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