While you are busy complaining about how hard it is to order food in restaurants in China, your Chinese friends have already started to judge you. Why? Well, the food and drinks that you order reveals more than you might realize. What you order and how you order will tell your friends just how long you have been living in China, your current status, and your taste…
Level 1: The gong bao ji ding Fans
If you step into a Chinese restaurant and say: “服务员（Fúwùyuán)”, “Kung Pao chicken please!,” your native Chinese speaking friends will definitely consider you a “newbie” in China. They might recommend that you try spicy tofu, scrambled egg with tomato, or 红烧肉（Hóngshāo ròu）, along with some other dishes that are popular with foreigners that are new in town. By shouting out “Fúwùyuán,” like ”hey look at me, I can finally say ‘Fúwùyuán’!” you will come across as an inexperienced Chinese speaker. Your new Chinese friends would likely be so embarrassed for you that they would pick up the check for dinner in an effort to make you feel better.
Level 2: The Chinese food explorers
Once you have been living in China for a while—let’s say 3 months, chances are, even the pickiest eater will have a favorite “go to” Chinese dish. Some people begin their Chinese food adventures by trying all different kinds of foods, for instance Chongqing frog, Shanghai Bāozi
（包子）, Sichuanhot-pot, or maybe trying milk tea with every kind of bubble imaginable. Native-speaking Chinese often call these people “吃货”（chī huò). This refers to people who have a special love for food or who have great taste when it comes to food. In most cases, a chī huò can eat like a horse. If you get called chī huò, don’t worry, it’s not an insult—in fact you should take it as a sort of compliment!
Level 3: The Cook
Have you tried to make real Chinese food for your family or friends? Well, if you didn’t cook your Chinese food using frozen, freeze dried or vacuum sealed ingredients, I’ll say congratulations! You are officially more than just a “chī huò” now. Some might even consider you half qualified to marry a native Shanghainese girl, which is quite an accomplishment considering that being a good cook is a requirement for many Shanghainese guys to find a wife! If you can make dumplings with more than 3 types of fillings, BBQ like a Uihgur in the Xinjiang style, or cook Hóngshāo ròu, you are definitely way past most foreigners in China, so congratulations!
Level 4: The Opinion Leaders
If you have a foreign friend who loves to show off their knowledge of Chinese cuisine, you probably heard how much they like the sweetness of Shanghainese food, or why you should eat the sweet scrambled egg with tomato but not the salty one, or even how amazing the roasted bun is and how boring the steamed one is. Giving a speech during dinner about Chinese food is not enough for this friend—he or she probably has a list of questions for you:
- Do you drink Chinese liquor mixed with Sprite or soda?
- Do you like to drink bubble tea cold or hot?
- Do you prefer Sichuan spicy or Hunan spicy?
- Do you prefer Shanghai sweetness or Guangdong sweetness?
- Do you prefer fried noodles or fried rice?
- Do you bite tangbao first or drink the soup init first?
- What is your favorite jianbing filling?
- Can you use chopsticks on right hand and spoon on left hand at the same time?
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