Eating in Chinese, Food in China

by Angela Efros on October 18, 2014

eating in chineseFood in China and meals can be a big ordeal.  Any life event from birthdays and weddings to buying a house and even a funeral is usually celebrated with a big banquet. Even small dinner parties with friends can be quite the to do. 


Since eating is such an important part of life, there are many cultural differences you should learn to adapt to when having a meal with Chinese friends.  Food in China is served differently than in the USA. There will be many dishes that are shared as a group. Many meals occur at a large round table with a lazy Susan on the top that can spin the dishes around to the others at the table. Tables can sit anywhere from 5 to 30 people!  Chinese people are very active when eating – talking and toasting one on one and to the whole group.

These 5 phrases will help you through a Chinese lunch or dinner party. Be sure to check out the pronunciation file at the bottom of the post!

  1. 多吃一点/菜 (Duō chī yīdiǎn fàn/cài)

Eat more food.

You are sure to hear this phrase at any Chinese dinner party. Its kind of like saying, “make yourself at home.” Just relax, enjoy, and eat as much as you want. If they notice that you have stopped eating, your friends may think you are trying to be polite, so they will encourage you to keep eating. Just respond, 谢谢,我吃饱了。It usually works… On the other hand they might start dishing more rice into your plate.


A:别客气,多吃点菜。(Bié kèqì, duō chī diǎn cài.)

B: 谢谢,我已经吃饱了。(Xièxiè, wǒ yǐjīng chī bǎole.)

A: Don’t be polite, help yourself.

B: Thanks, I’m already full.



  1. 敬你一杯 (jìngnǐ yībēi)

A toast to you.

It’s normal in China to drink alcohol during lunch and dinner with friends. Whether it’s a party or just a casual meal, Chinese will toast friends one by one and in groups. You should have a drink with each person at the table.


A: 大哥,敬你一杯。 (Dàgē, jìngnǐ yībēi.)

B: 哎,别这么客气了。(Āi, bié Zhème kèqìle.)

A: Brother, here’s a toast to you.

B: Oh, don’t be so formal.

  1. 以茶代酒 (Yǐ chá dài jiǔ)

Use tea in the place of alcohol.

If you don’t drink alcohol, you’ll need this phrase to be polite. It means, even though you aren’t drinking alcohol, you’d like to toast your friends using tea in its place.


A:生日快乐!(Shēngrì kuàilè!)

B:谢谢,谢谢 (Xièxiè, xièxiè)

A:来,以茶代酒,敬你一杯。(Lái, yǐ chá dài jiǔ, jìngnǐ yībēi.)

A: Happy Birthday!

B: Thank you!

A: Here, let me toast you. I’ll use tea instead of alcohol.



  1. 慢慢吃。 (Màn man chī)

Enjoy your meal.

The host of the meal will often say this to guests to be polite. It actually translates to eat slowly. It is often accompanied with a reminder that there is still a lot of food coming. In that situation it would mean more like take your time and enjoy the food. At a casual meal, people will often say 慢慢吃 before leaving the table.


A:慢慢吃。还有很多菜(Màn man chī. Hái yǒu hěnduō cài.)

B:好,谢谢!(Hǎo, xièxiè!)

A: Take your time, there is plenty more food coming.

B: Ok, thanks!

  1. 我先走。 (Wǒ xiān zǒu)

I’m leaving first.

If you are at a meal or any gathering with friends, it can often be hard to say when it is appropriate to leave. A simple lunch can easily turn into an afternoon of Karaoke or playing cards. If you want to leave earlier than others, the polite way to escape is to say, “I have something to do, so I’ll leave first.” If you are at a dinner party, just explain to whoever invited you that you have plans or another obligation (don’t be too specific or they try helping you find a way around it). Then before leaving announce to the rest of the party “我先走了.”


A:我下午还有点事。(Wǒ xiàwǔ hái yǒudiǎn shì)

B:好,下次再来玩。(Hǎo, xià cì zàilái wán.)

A:好,那我先走。(Hǎo, nà wǒ xiān zǒu.)

A: I have something to take care of this afternoon.

B: Ok, come back again next time.

A: Ok, so I’m leaving first.


Here’s the pronunciation of these 5 phrases to help you practice! Enjoy your meal!

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