WHEN you get invited to business meals in China, it is normal to be served more than 20 dishes for a table of 10 people.
First to reach the dining table are an assortment of cold dishes comprising pickles, salads and fermented or braised poultry organs.
These will be followed by the main course, which would usually be the signature cuisine of the restaurants, mainly seafood and meat dishes, followed by desserts.
Noodles or rice will usually be served last and the guests would only eat it if they are still not very full after tasting all the dishes.
From my own experience, the host always ordered more than what the guests could eat.
It is Chinese hospitality, really – serving more than enough food to their guests – or they will lose face if the guests finish all the food.
I have two Chinese friends who work in Malaysia. Not long after we met, I asked them out for lunch.
As they wanted to try local food, I took them to a nasi lemak joint in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur, but the place was closed.
So, we adjourned to a nearby warung. I paid for the bill since I invited them for lunch and it was just a get together meal for us. I did not consider myself a host.
After that meeting, we never had meals together again and they were always giving excuses like being busy or were outstation.
After a few years living in China, I slowly began to understand their dining practices and realised that I was “too stingy” and “low class”.
I do not know if these were the reasons my friends turned me down in Kuala Lumpur. I got to ask them.
I learned now my lesson on how to play a good host. A bowl of laksa or a plate of nasi lemak won’t do.
I need to host guests at a fancy place that served proper dishes.
It is normal to see two people ordering five dishes at restaurants and they must start with at least one cold dish but never finish the food.
“It is the culture, just like the Westerners start their meals with an appetiser,” said a Chinese friend.
When I raised this question to several Chinese friends, all of them agreed that food wastage was a bad practice in the country.
“Some people had gone through hard times, and now when they can afford it, they spend lavishly,” said a journalist, adding that lack of awareness was another reason.
“Most of them (hosts) do not spend their own money when eating out; the bills are claimable.”
Some Chinese acknowledged that it is some sort of “pride” to leave behind food to show that they are leading a good life.
Food wastage has become too rampant, prompting Chinese President Xi Jinping to call for an end to the practice.
His call came as the Food and Agriculture Organisation warned in its Food Outlook report in June that food markets would face many more months of uncertainty related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pointing out the issue of food waste as shocking and distressing, Xi highlighted the need to maintain a sense of crisis regarding food security, reported Xinhua, the country’s national news agency.
“It is necessary to further enhance public awareness of the issue, effectively cultivate thrifty habits and foster a social environment where waste is shameful,” he said recently.
In fact, this was not the first time the Chinese leader emphasised the importance of respecting and treasuring food.
“In the face of the Covid-19 outbreak, the more risks and challenges we face, the more we need to stabilise agriculture and ensure the security of grain and major non-staple foods,” he urged.
Various provincial governments have answered Xi’s call by coming out with guidelines to curb food wastage.
Some of them adopted the “minus one” policy, in which a table of 10 diners can only order nine dishes.
Small or half-portions of food are also introduced to smaller groups of diners.
Some restaurants would give discounts or parking coupons to customers who finished their food.
A recent survey, carried out at 366 restaurants in major Chinese cities by the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, said diners wasted an average of 93g of food per meal.
Large restaurants and business dinners are the top sources of waste, it added as reported in China Daily.
Another food wastage situation the government wanted to tackle was the live-streamed videos of big eaters who purportedly eat up to 100 pieces of fried chicken, a huge bowl of noodles or 10 boxes of pizzas in one sitting.
These videos were exposed to be faked. The “actors” would either vomit out the food later or secretly throw them in a bin hidden away from the camera.
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