The toptable bluffer's guide to … eating Chinese food

Do you adore Chinese food, but always end up asking for a fork? Welcome to the toptable bluffer's guide to eating Chinese food!

The first thing to keep in mind is this: the original Chinese word for food translates as 'accompaniments to rice'. Rice is the heart and soul of a Chinese meal and everything else is gravy. So treat your rice with respect – put just a spoonful of each dish on top of your rice. If your rice has disappeared under a mound of other food, you've overloaded your plate. You can always have seconds and thirds. Just take it easy with each serving. Here are some more top tips:

1.  Chopsticks: practice holding them about one-third of the way from the top. Hold the bottom one steady in the space between your thumb and first finger, then make the pincer-movement with the second chopstick using the tip of your your thumb as a fulcrum and your first two fingers as the motor.

2. Chopsticks redux: Lots of Chinese people hold their chopsticks 'wrong', e.g. crossed. If you work out a 'wrong' method that works for you, don't sweat it – just tuck in.

3.  Okay, now you've got your chopstick issue sorted, remember that they are the equivalent of a fork in the West and do not use them to serve yourself from the shared dishes of food. Use the spoon provided.

4.  Serve yourself from the part of the dish nearest you. Don't go fishing around for the good bits and do be aware that, if you're in a Chinese group, when a child or old person is seated near you, they will be served the best bits – lobster claw, sonny?

5.  Don't mix sauces, it mucks up the flavours. Use the sauce that goes with the dish, and don't take a bite of something and then dip it in the sauce again. Unhygienic and uncool. 

6.  Now the porcelain spoon comes into play. Use it to put more sauce on an unsauced bite of food. You can also use it in one hand, with your chopsticks in the other, to help get bites of noodle-y soup or slippery dumplings into your mouth without a mess. Just hold the bite on your spoon near your mouth and make the quick transfer with the chops.

7.  Peking duck: Lay out a pancake on your plate, then make a smear of the brown hoi sin sauce across the middle. Not too much, though, or you'll look like the kind of person who covers everything in brown sauce over here. Lay bits of duck meat, cucumber and salad onion on top, then roll everything together and enjoy.

8.  Tea: serve others before you serve yourself. When the teapot needs more water, just take the lid off the pot and balance it on the top, partly on the handle. The waiter will get the message and refill your pot.

9.  Go easy on the soy sauce and don't put it on rice ever. If you're in a fine Chinese restaurant, leave it out altogether. Just trust the chef's balance of flavours to delight your palate.

Hungry for Chinese? Try some of toptable's superb Chinese restaurants.