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Food and Food Safety in China

Chinese Food


The above street scene may tempt you to try some of the local fare on the street. If you are new to travel in Asia or China, you should refrain from eating on the street until you know what you are getting into. The food will likely taste quite different and actually be quite different than anything you have had before. Food safety should be the major factor in your decision to abstain. Food safety issues can arise around chemicals and contaminants, bacteria, and disease. Poor food cooking, preparation, and storage, as well as improper cleaning and disinfecting of cooking supplies is common. A food related ailment can ruin a business or pleasure trip really fast. In our opinion, eating food directly off the street is just not worth the risk.

In declining order of preference, your choice for food should be:

  • Major, international hotels

  • Major international restaurant chains

  • Well known local restaurants

  • Local residents homes, an unlikely occurrence as their homes are usually quite small.

Chemical contaminants on food: Avoid eating raw vegetables and unpeeled fruits. These foods are usually washed in local water. The local water can contain a wide variety of harmful bacteria, and is often untreated or treated insufficiently.

Avoid salads, especially during your first few visits. If you must eat salads, try to limit it to top hotels.

Whenever possible, select food that is cooked.

You also will find major differences in style of cooking and taste. There is Cantonese, Shanghanese, Sichuan, to name a few. Some are spicy some are not. But if you enjoy Chinese food at home you will come back with two comments: 1. Chinese food in China tastes significantly different than back home. 2, The local cooking tastes good.

It will be difficult, if not impossible to find an eggroll and fortune cookies. The closest to an eggroll will be a spring roll, much smaller. Fortune cookies will likely not be found either.

TIP: Local cuisine cooked by the locals will often taste better than American or European cuisine cooked in China. The logic behind this is the locals know how to cook their food.


Don't drink the water. Drink only bottled water, period. This applies wherever you go in China. This is not really different from travel in other parts of the world. Not only are there bacteria that your body is unaccustomed to, but there is also chemicals and pollutants in many/most drinking supplies. Stick to bottled water, canned and bottled beverages and fruit juices.

Do not use ice. It will be much easier to learn to enjoy a warmer beverage than it will be to rid your system of that intestinal disorder.

As a rule of thumb, if it comes bottled or canned it should be safe. You will find a wide variety of domestic and international beverages- beer, soda, bottled water -- to choose from in canned or bottled form. So liquids will not be a problem if you avoid water.

The water for coffee and tea are boiled, so safety issues are minimized.

The local beers are usually fair to very good. The domestic wines leave something to be desired. Although the price of domestic wine is very reasonable, this wine lover can not be lured. Imported beer and wine are also readily available, along with the cost of hefty import duties.

TIP: Do not accept bottled water that you did not see being opened or opened yourself. It is always possible that the bottle has been filled with tap water.

Bones In or Bones Out?:

Real Chinese cooking(in China) is different than in the U.S. and other western countries. Chinese cooking was adapted in western countries to suit the eating styles and habits in the West. Among the most notable visible difference is that when cooking in China the bones are left in the meat when cooking and serving. Commonly, the meat is simply chopped into bite sized morsels with no thought or attempt to remove the bones. Fish is usually cooked whole after removing the guts and entrails. The head remains on, and if anything, takes on a decorative appearrance to the dish. The cheek of the fish is considered a delicacy that meal participants will vie for.

Eating meat with bones poses a unique challenge for the unprepared and unskilled Westerner. It is both polite and proper to pick up and chew the piece of meat then spit out the bones onto the plate. In some areas, it is not uncommon to deposit the remains directly onto the table. Chewing and sucking on the bones is normal. Even the head of a chicken or pigeon may be placed in the mouth and chewed on to extract the meat. The Chinese have a knack for extracting all the meat and skin off the bone before spitting the bones out.

The same holds true for seafood. A crab leg is consumed by biting off a piece of the leg bone and all, then chewing and sucking out the meat. Crabs are commonly much smaller than a U.S. "King Crab" leg. As with any bones, once the meat has been extracted, the crab bones are spit out onto the plate. You may also see a local take the entire head of a small fish and chew on it, again spitting out the bones with great proficiency.

If these thoughts prove distasteful, chose your meal selections carefully and ask for meals sans bones.

Manners and Etiquette:

Here are a few helpful hints to make your meal or banquet successful without insulting your guests or appearing to be uncouth or barbarian:

  • Seating for banquets is usually arranged. Seat the most important guests first and at the best tables. Do not say anything like: " Please sit wherever you please." You may find all the guest just stand and stare at you.
  • Wait for someone to say to eat prior to digging in. Guests will be offered food first.
  • Take a little helping of each course first. Do not skip a course even if you are not particularly fond of it. After several courses are served, take more of those you like.
  • Slurping soup is okay and even expected.
  • Meat is served with bones. The bones are normally spit out onto the plate or even the table.
  • At a banquet and most meals rice is not served. If you want it, simply ask. Rice is difficult to eat with chopsticks. It is okay to put the bowl to your mouth and shovel it in with your chopsticks.
  • During a banquet, too much toasting leads to too much wine and cognac consumed.Carrying a wet cloth or towel is common. After the toast, you will see people wipe their mouth. You may not see the cognac flow from lips to towel.
  • If you are holding the banquet, include several courses with variety and a balance of meat and vegetable and fruits. Remember the soup is served last.
  • Chopsticks are to be used for eating, not pointing.

Oriental Cooking:

There are many sites on the net that contain information on Oriental cooking and recipes.

Start your net search by visiting our recipe section devoted to Oriental Cooking. In here we start you off on your search for the perfect recipes. Here you will find just about everything about oriental food, from history to protocols for serving to how to get seeds to grow oriental vegetables in your own garden.

Supermarkets- - :

A few years ago, you would not see supermarkets or large scale food and grocery stores in China. In the past few years, the number has begun to increase in the major cities with modern apartments. The key to this growth is the increasing number of refrigerators. Still, most of the population does not own refrigerators. The majority of people shop daily on their way home from work. Small shops and markets like depicted at the top of this page is where the vast majority of the population goes to shop for food. While you may not want to sample most local fare here, you may want to purchase a piece of fruit and remove the peel. It is the same fruit you will find elsewhere in China.

In the major cities, and especially near or adjacent to hotels catering to western tourists, you will find small grocery stores stocked with a limited variety of imported, packaged foods. These stores can also be found near living quarters for western Expats. Common grocery items like soda, cereals, snacks, soups, toiletries, and many others will be found here. Brands will range from all over the world and are easily recognized. Importation of these products require the payment of steep import duties. While the prices may be high, they are still less than when bought in a restaurant and during an extended visit the taste of something from home can have high value.




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