I was thoroughly impressed by this couple’s attempt to create a “Chinese Banquet Survival Guide”. It’s way way wayyy better than our attempt in a “Frequently Asked Questions” page on Chinese American Weddings.
Chinese Banquet Survival Guide
This is a guide to help you survive your first Chinese banquet. If you have been to one of these before, then you know what you’re getting yourselves into, and hopefully you are looking forward to the upcoming feast!
Kate, me, and about 200 of our closest friends and family. Many of you will be traveling from out of state and we can’t wait to see you!
Dress Code is not formal. There is a wide range of acceptable things to wear, ranging from khakis and a button up, to full suits for men. For women, ask Kate. Do not wear a tux or a full ball gown or you will feel out of place. Think cocktail attire to business casual to job interview to sunday mass. Just don’t wear all white– white is usually for funerals. White shirt is fine.
A chinese wedding banquet is all about the food. Get ready for an 8-12 course meal, all served family style. Each table will fit approximately 12 guests and the courses will come out every 5-10 minutes after the first course is served. The dishes are placed on a lazy susan so passing dishes around is generally not necessary. Serving spoons will be provided with each dish to help you transfer food from the center of the table to your individual plates. Forks will be provided as well in case your chopstick skills are not up to par. No one will judge you if you use a fork.
Everyone will have an opportunity to grab as much or as little of each courses as they like, but please be mindful of others at your table. You guys are a team– make sure the shy and meek are getting enough to eat, and be willing to share the best pieces of each dish with one another. In chinese culture, it is considered an honor to serve others, whether by scooping rice into bowls for everyone at the table, pouring tea for others, or helping grandma get a piece of lobster from the middle of the table.
Cantonese culture originates from the Canton (Guangzhou) Province in southern China which includes Hong Kong and Macau. The cuisine is heavily influenced by the proximity to the water so fresh seafood and fresh ingredients is a central theme to most dishes. If you walk around Chinatown, you’ll see that most restaurants have live shrimp, fish, abalone, and other strange aquatic life held in tanks ready for you to order. It’s normal to go from tank to plate in less than 20 minutes. If you walk around some more, you might stumble into the live chicken shop that supplies restaurants and customers with ultra fresh poultry.
Cantonese cuisine is typically not spicy, but there are condiments on every table so that each guest can season their food to their own tastes. Condiments include, hot chili oil, hot chili paste, dry mustard, red rice vinegar, grey salt, and white pepper. Soy sauce and duck sauce are usually not on the tables, but feel free to flag down a waiter if it better suits your tastes.
Although Kate and I haven’t picked out our exact dishes for the event yet, the structure of the meal is typically the same: Cold dish, fried dish, soup, stir fry dish, chicken, lobster, fish, beef, fried rice, noodles, and dessert. Below is a sample menu based on Banquets I’ve attended in the past.
1. Cold BBQ platter:
Crispy skin pork belly, roasted pork, roasted duck, beef terrine, and jellyfish salad with sesame oil and pickle carrots/daikon (don’t be a wuss, try to jellyfish. If you are at a table with Chinese people, you might not get a chance as this is typically the first to go)
2. Deep fried crab claws:
A mixture of shrimp meat is formed into a meatball and attached to the base of a crab claw, then deep fried. Picture a lollipop with the crab claw as the stick.
A translucent seafood soup with crab and vegetables for texture. The bouillabaisse is thickened by cornstarch rather than flour which gives it the clear appearance.
4. Stir Fry:
One of my favorite dishes is called a birds nest. It uses thinly shaved taro root shaped into a bowl bowl and then deep fried to create what looks like a birds nest. The “nest” is then filled with shrimp, scallops, fish, mushrooms, and veggies that have been quickly sauteed together in a screaming hot wok. Rip apart the nest which has soaked up the juices from the stir fry and eat with the ingredients
An entire chicken. Fried whole. It’s then chopped up chinese style which means there is bone, skin, and flesh on every piece. The idea is that the bone helps with flavor and juiciness of the chicken, but is meant to be separated from the meat/skin before you eat it. The skin is well seasoned and acts as a condiment for the flesh
Two whole lobsters cut up in shell, deep fried, and then sauteed with ginger and scallion. Chopsticks work very well to fish the lobster meat out of the shell.
A whole fish (usually flounder or black bass) steamed with ginger, scallions, soy sauce. Be careful with bones, especially if you are picking meat near the belly or top fin area. The cheeks and eye brow areas contain the most delicate meat on the whole fish
Typically a sirloin cut (tends to be chewy and difficult without a knife) seared to a medium, served with chinese broccoli and a beef gravy thickened with cornstarch
9. Fried Rice:
’nuff said. Although usually much lighter and fresher than your typical Chinese American take-out.
Long noodles for long life. There’s actually some symbolic significance for each dish in the banquet but this is the only one I remember. In case you were still hungry, these homemade egg noodle will fill you up. It’s comparable to a lo mein
Either red bean soup or tapioca soup. Both are sweet and are served warm. Oranges slices are often served at the end as well. Chinese people usually do not like things that are too sweet and don’t do desserts well according to Kate’s standards.
6:00: doors open, come in for a drink or 3 and mingle with other guests. Find your table number and sign the guestbook
7:00: most people have seated at this point and the dishes start to arrive
8:30: most dishes have reached the tables. The wedding party starts to work it’s way around to every table to toast and take pictures
9:00: meal winds down. Boxes to take home leftovers are delivered to tables. This practice is normal and encouraged so don’t feel tacky. The wedding party will be gathered near the door to say goodbye to everyone.
-Be considerate about other people so that everyone gets a shot at their favorite pieces of each dish (especially the chicken and lobster courses).
-Practice your chopstick skills, this is the moment you have been training for. When grabbing food from the center of the table with chopsticks, use the OTHER END of your sticks as this is more sanitary especially if you are at a table with unfamiliar guests. If your table is familiar with each other then it doesn’t matter. Forks are okay too, unless you are Chinese, then the wait staff may look down on you.
-Rice is meant to be eaten in the small bowl, not the plate (picking up individual grains of rice or small clumps off a plate is as inefficient for us as it is for you). You actually lift the bowl to your mouth and shovel it in there with the chopsticks.
-Serve others first, and then yourself. Offer the last piece to the rest of the table before taking it. Pour tea for others. This is the Chinese way.
-If you start hitting your plates or bowls with chopsticks, others at the banquet will follow suit. Then Kate and I will have to kiss right there and then regardless what is happening.
-Don’t wear black-tie attire. You will be alone and people may laugh at you. Don’t wear a white dress or a white suit either
-The typical gift at a banquet is cash in a Chinese red envelope. Please be aware this is not required and we do not expect anything, especially if you are already spending money traveling/showers/and gift registry. Your presence is a gift in itself.
-If you have dietary restrictions, please let us know. We can always order off their normal menu to accommodate vegetarian or vegan diets. Note the banquet meal is not heavy on vegetables.
-If you are seated at the kids table or friends table, none of this applies. Have a blast! Open bar!