My worst mistake when ordering food in China, by Francis Dorfling

“It will get easier.” That is a phrase I’ve heard so much since I got here, and it sure does even when it comes to ordering food. Not easy though, just easier. Don’t confuse the two.

The first big meal I had here was with all the new teachers, a few of the Chinese staff, and our executive Headmaster. The food was delicious and it just kept on coming. Never giving a thought about how it got to the table. Until all was done and we actually had to start wandering around looking for food and ordering it by ourselves.

Using your sense of smell might help a little. Walk out onto the street and sniff your way to the variety of different restaurants available to you. If they smell bad, try the next one. Keep going until you like the smell and are intrigued enough to try the food. (Well, in China looks and smell can be deceiving.)

Next, decide if you want to be able to understand the menu and know what you are eating, or if you want to gamble a bit and test your skills of pointing and guessing. Then you think “Hey I’m in China”, so why not try the new and unexpected.

First, point at the meal you have blindly chosen. Let them know you only want one order for yourself. Then smile big which says: “Yes, I have no idea what I just ordered but I am trusting you as my waitress/waiter to bring me something delicious.”

You will most likely end up with something like this: mystery meat, in a questionable broth with overly chewy noodles. It’s about the experience…so dig in and plan on making a beeline to the closest bakery in the case that it leaves a foul tasting flavor in your mouth- but “Hey, I’m in China.”

This will only be one of the many situations where you stare at the waiter repeating yourself in English thinking why don’t you understand me while they probably think the exact same thing, or grabbing your phone to ask “PLECO” for some help. (It does help hehehe.) Use the numbers 1 to 5 to decide how cooked you want your meat. Safest bet would be 5. Point at pictures or just using your wonderful teaching skills by playing charades with the waiter trying to order a simple dish like chicken.

But what can I say. “It gets easier.”




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