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What to expect at a traditional Chinese wedding banquet.

RderdallRderdall Registered User regular
edited September 2011 in Help / Advice Forum
Hey all,

My wife and I (both non-asian) have been invited to a friend's wedding banquet. They are both Chinese, and will be hosting a traditional banquet with a 12 course meal.

I would like to educate myself as much as possible so that I keep with the traditions, and am not caught off guard by anything. I guess really, I don't want to look like the 'ignorant white guy'.

What can I expect for the 12 courses? What is proper etiquette? I've read that Red is the standard color for good luck. Should I wear something red? How much money should we expect to give?

Thanks in advance,


Xbox Gamertag: GAMB1NO325Xi
Rderdall on


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    DeebaserDeebaser on my way to work in a suit and a tie Ahhhh...come on fucking guyRegistered User regular
    I've been to two chinese weddings. They were definitely different. Don't go hungry as you will likely be sitting at the table for a long ass time (~2 hours) before you are served anything. A regular suit is appropriate attire. I did not notice anyone wearing red, but then again this is the first I'm hearing about it.

    Unlike your typical western wedding, most of the reception is you sitting at your table, cause you know, 12 course meal. :)
    Thus, it's fairly easy to avoid a faux pas.

    One course that is often served is abalone. It's a delicacy. Most of the courses were fine and not terribly frightening to the white guy palate. The only thing I remember going "WTF" over was jellyfish.

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    illigillig Registered User regular
    2nd the "don't go hungry" comment. Most Chinese show up an hour or more late for these things bc they are guaranteed to make you wait for your food. Once food arrives, however, be ready for a feast. It's amazing imho, from the jellyfish starter to the red bean soup dessert
    :drool: its all "family style" so they'll put a large plate in the middle of the table and you take as much as you want - so you don't have to worry about being forced to eat a whole plate of something you don't like.

    There may be extra cultural events that you may not be used to at western weddings like a tea ceremony or gold giving ceremony but these vary, and only include family members who know what they're doing.

    Unlike western weddings, Chinese wedding gifts are almost exclusively cash in my experience and you typically give the gift to the couple at some random point rather than leaving it at a table or whatever.

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    RderdallRderdall Registered User regular
    Thanks for the tips. I'm a bit of a foodie, and I'm crazy excited for this 12 course meal.


    Xbox Gamertag: GAMB1NO325Xi
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    CauldCauld Registered User regular
    Check into traditional Chinese lucky numbers, and try to give cash in an appropriately lucky amount

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    UnderdogUnderdog Registered User regular
    Cauld wrote:
    Check into traditional Chinese lucky numbers, and try to give cash in an appropriately lucky amount
    Or at the very least, avoid the unlucky numbers (ie anything with the digit 4).

    Here's a break down of a typical dinner:

    1. BBQ platter - crispy skin pork belly, roasted pork, roasted duck, soya chicken and the jelly fish. Don't be a pussy, try the jelly fish. Unless you're a table of mostly Chinese people, in which case you might not even get the chance. Duck goes with plum sauce, jelly fish with red vinegar.

    2. Deep fried crab claws. A mixture of shrimp meat is formed around a crab claw and deep fried. Also with red vinegar.

    3. Soup, typically shark fin. I'm not a huge fan anything, especially not since that documentary. The soup is good though, the shark fin itself doesn't really taste like anything. It's mostly there for texture. Nice with a bit of red vinegar (hmm, I hadn't realized how much we used it until typing it out) or some of the yellow mustard provided.

    4. Abalone served on a bed of ice berg lettuce. Sliced thin and braised for a while in an oyster sauce, it's really quite nice. Also one of only 3 dishes to provide some ruffage so don't avoid the greens if you want to stay regular.

    5. Jumbo shiitake mushrooms and something called faat choy, which basically looks like human hair. Don't be put off though, it's soft and captures the sauce quite nicely. Served on a bed of broccoli or shanghai bok choy.

    6. A seafood stir fry. Large shrimp, scallops and squid with slivers of mushrooms stir fried with celery or snow peas.

    7. Fried chicken. No flour crust means that there isn't the familiar skin westerners are used to seeing with fried chicken but it's no less tasty.

    8. Lobster, perhaps the most anticipated for some. 2 lobsters per table, cut up into chunks and stir fried with long strips of scallions, ginger and garlic. Pretty awesome.

    9. Steamed fish. Done up with scallions and ginger stuffed inside the body and a very nice flavoured soya sauce. Word of warning, it is served whole, head and tail attached. No need to be freaked out, you don't need to eat the head if you don't want to although I'm told that the cheek is the best part.

    10 and 11. Fried rice and stir fried egg noodles. The fried rice is typically yeung chow style (cubed shrimp, bbq pork and some mixed veggies) although they'll also do egg white and dried, shredded scallops. The egg noodles are almost always the same; stiry fried with slices of shiitake and snow peas. It is the dish I look forward to the most, helped by the fact that people are usually stuffed when it comes around. :)

    12. Dessert; red bean soup. I'm not a fan but everyone else seems to love it to death. Give it a whirl. They may also have some cookies and little red/yellow jello things which can be very nice.

    Quick Tips: Don't pick and choose your pieces too much. With things served family style, there will be certain pieces that are better than others for certain dishes. The chicken and lobster come to mind. Be considerate and make sure everyone gets a shot at the good stuff.

    The actual dinner can take about 2 hours because of slight pauses between dishes. As it is a wedding, there should be games and jokes and laughter to tide you over. Trust me, it may take a little while but you will be amply full by the time the red bean soup comes around.

    Feel free to use forks if you're unfamiliar with chopsticks but this would be a good time to practice. If you do use them, use the communal chopsticks provided when you're actually taking food from the dishes and putting them on your plate. It's more sanitary this way.

    There's a Hong Kong custom at weddings where the guests hit their chopsticks against the plates or bowls. It's basically a demand that the bride and groom kiss right then and there, regardless of what's happening.

    Enjoy! It's not just dinner, it's a whole event so don't stay too focused on the food.

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    UnderdogUnderdog Registered User regular
    I think wearing red will be ok. I don't see it much but I don't believe it's a faux pas. If you're not sure, just a nice suit of any colour will be fine. Maybe a red tie or kerchief. Be careful with white though. White is for funerals so, yeah. White dress shirt is fine although you've probably got others that look nicer but don't show up in all white.

    Hmm, how much is a good question. I usually attend these as family so we're expected to give more. I asked my mom and assuming you're good friends (not crazy close but also not just acquaintances), you're looking at about $60/person. If you're giving a gift as well, then it's a less. You can put the money in a red pocket which can be purchased at any place that sells Chinese trinkets but ask the cashier if it's ok for a wedding as some can be very specific.

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    BloodfartBloodfart Registered User regular
    umm this wedding totally depends on where in China they are from.

    I live in Beijing and have been to numerous 'chinese weddings' and not a single one has been like the weddings mentioned above with a 12 course meal.

    They way the northern-chinese weddings have always been has been thus:

    - first tons of people come into a restaurant and are greeted by the bride looking super sexy in her QiPao, and groom looking like a groom.

    - tons of people sit at large circular tables in a big dining hall and eat snacks on the table
    - snacks on the table are always hard candies, soft drinks, sunflower seeds, and piles of cigarettes (likely only in china)

    - soon the bride and groom come in and insanely loud music plays while they walk together to the podium (note they are always already legally married. That is a private affair and this party is just for showing off to friends and family while getting cash from friends and family (HongBao (red packets).

    - Now an MC goes through introducing the couple, talking about their families, and paying respects to certain individuals. Likely some serious bowing to old people follows.

    - Friends of the couple try to embarrass them with things like making the bride roll an egg up the groom's pantleg, through the crotch, then down another.

    - tons of dishes of food start to arrive and everyone digs in. More food just keeps coming as fast as the chefs can cook it. No order or importance to any dishes.

    - While people eat the bride and groom go around offering cups of BaiJiu (strong-ass rice booze), thus making most men and a few women horribly drunk. Tables also open their own nice bottles of BaiJiu and get hammered drunk.

    - Everyone casually gives the wedding couple a red packet with cash inside when they come around. Chinese weddings can actually end up making a profit this way.

    - The instant the food is finished most people take the leftovers and go home.

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    mightyjongyomightyjongyo Sour Crrm East Bay, CaliforniaRegistered User regular
    Don't know if this applies to weddings, but generally you should offer the other people at the table the last bit of food on the plate before taking it. At least, that's how I was raised. This may not be a problem if you're sitting with young people though. It also may not matter because they wont expect it anyways and you're not trying to impress anyone.

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    SwashbucklerXXSwashbucklerXX Swashbucklin' Canuck Registered User regular
    I wouldn't worry too much about etiquette and no-nos; I've been to a few Chinese weddings here in Canada and unless your friends' families are extremely traditional, it's likely to be pretty laid-back. The only thing I'd do for sure is eat with chopsticks, although the restaurant staff may attempt to offer silverware to the white folks. Don't be afraid to ask questions of the people at your table; there's no reason to try to play it cool. You're white and you haven't been to a Chinese wedding before, so people will assume there's stuff you don't know. In my experience, folks of all cultures really enjoy explaining their wedding traditions to others. Also in my experience, however, a lot of the things besides the food will be pretty familiar. Friends giving speeches, stupid wedding games, all that stuff.

    Want to find me on a gaming service? I'm SwashbucklerXX everywhere.
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    ChenChen Registered User regular
    edited September 2011
    There should be forks and spoons for most dishes, so you don't have to use chopsticks to pick up food from the plate to your bowl if you don't want to (if you do, don't let pieces of food stick on your chopsticks like bits of rice before grabbing from the plate). You can then use chopsticks to eat from your own bowl at your leasure. If you're sitting with young people, there shouldn't be any specific etiquette. Just being polite should be enough, like not being overly picky or asking if anyone wants the last food on the plate before taking it yourself or showing both your hands while eating or not slurping.

    Money I'd say is about $50 per person. Could be less, could be more, depending on how close you are.

    Chen on
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    Dropping LoadsDropping Loads Registered User regular
    Like Bloodfart says, it can very greatly based on individual tradition. I'd be very hesitant about wearing red recollection is that red is reserved for the wedding party. A random guest wouldn't show up to an American wedding wearing white, for example. Wearing the formal wear appropriate to your culture (i.e. a dark suit) is always acceptable unless you're being specifically instructed to do otherwise.

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    UnderdogUnderdog Registered User regular
    I've been to more of those dinners than I can recall, easily upwards of 20, and though they'll differ in the food they serve, the structure is always the same. I should note however that they were hosted almost entirely by people from Hong Kong or with HK heritage so it might be a location thing.

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    HypatiaHypatia Registered User regular
    If you use chopsticks, don't stick them in your food (e.g., a bowl of rice) so that they're sticking straight up, that's really bad. If you aren't using them set them down.

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    finralfinral Registered User regular
    Generally, the Chinese seem to expect foreigners to do dumb non Chinese things, and might gently rib you if they know you. I wouldn't really worry about offending anyone. Small piece of etiquette, stop drinking from your glass when a person giving a toast stops drinking.

    Also, an amusing wedding story: A friend of mine was invited to a Chinese wedding by a couple he didn't know that well. He was excited to go for the whole experience, but when he got there, they handed him a priest outfit and asked him to do a mock western style wedding. He ended up shrugging his shoulders, doing it, and having a great time, despite having no idea how to approach the whole situation.

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    DeusfauxDeusfaux Registered User regular
    I think it's important to make a stand on any potential shark fin soup.

    I don't think you should throw a scene, but maybe if possible say you will not have any in advance, and stick to that by the time you go.

    Don't support that industry.

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    Inquisitor77Inquisitor77 2 x Penny Arcade Fight Club Champion A fixed point in space and timeRegistered User regular
    Deusfaux wrote:
    I think it's important to make a stand on any potential shark fin soup.

    I don't think you should throw a scene, but maybe if possible say you will not have any in advance, and stick to that by the time you go.

    Don't support that industry.

    Yeah, no need to do this. If you don't want it, don't eat it. Plenty of people don't eat plenty of things for plenty of reasons at Chinese banquets. No one cares why - if you don't eat it they'll assume you don't like it, and if they ask you can just say as much. The event is about the bride and groom, not your personal ethical code. If you feel that strongly about it, don't show up.

    Keep in mind that Chinese wedding banquets are largely for the parents of the couple, not for the couple themselves. This is largely a social gathering meant to display wealth, affluence, and prestige. In all likelihood they will have been under a tremendous amount of stress getting this thing done because their parents have been nagging the crap out of them the whole time (e.g., "You can't seat Auntie Mary's family next to Auntie Julie's family because they hate each other", "You have to put your second cousin in the wedding party even though you have never seen her before and it means your best friend has to sit out," etc. etc. etc.). They're almost certainly already putting up with a great deal just to make their families happy. Don't be a goose and make it worse for your friends. Showing up and throwing a hissy fit (which is exactly what this is) will not endear you to anyone, and will likely earn you a great deal of resentment from the bride/groom.

    For the OP:

    Coming from that background, my experience is largely with the Hong Kong/Cantonese-style banquets as well. I'll echo Underdog's outline as generally correct. Just expect a lot of courses over several hours, be considerate of portions and pickings, and always offer to fill someone else's cup before yours. Putting food on someone else's plate is generally something that the younger generation is expected to do for the older generation - your participation in that exercise won't be expected and will almost certainly not be warranted. As described above, anyone of significant age at the banquet will have been seated at the appropriate table surrounded by people who will be more than happy to dump food on their plates for them. The only thing that might make you look even better, besides the pouring drinks rule, is offering to be the "rice guy" - when the rice pot comes around, offer to take other people's plates/bowls and put rice in them. Of course, there's a good chance that 5 other people at the table are more than happy to do this automatically, so no need to worry about it.

    As far as specific cultural no-no's, I can't think of anything off the top of my head. If you want to use chopsticks, save your soup bowl and put rice in there. Put food on your plate, then transfer to your bowl using chopsticks. Shovel rice into your mouth. That's the correct way to do it. No one in their right mind tries to pick up individual grains of rice off of a plate with chopsticks. Showing up wearing all-white attire would also be a bad idea, as someone else mentioned.

    Honestly, now that I think about it more, there's every chance in the world you'll be relegated to the "friends" or "children" table. In which case none of the above rules really apply. That's why they put you there - so you can screw up and no one will care. :)

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    BagginsesBagginses __BANNED USERS regular
    I'd say a good amount would be $126, especially if you can convince them you think they're Jewish. Either way, it'd be a good amount for two.

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    theditionthedition Registered User new member
    Deusfaux wrote: »
    I think it's important to make a stand on any potential shark fin soup.

    I don't think you should throw a scene, but maybe if possible say you will not have any in advance, and stick to that by the time you go.

    Don't support that industry.

    Oh Good God. I know this was a while ago, but good God man. Why not protest a couple that arrives at their wedding in a gas guzzling stretch limo/hummer because it contributes to global warming and coral bleaching? Or protest the any number of wasteful, horrible things that all of us do everyday.

    I don't deny that Shark's Fin is not a great practice, I just think it is such an easy and lame way to go about acting like you actually care about the environment. Let's blame some other culture for the destruction of the environment--that's easier than actually looking at our own lives. And let's make this point--that some other people do awful things to the environment, unlike the rest of us, in the context of a wedding.

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    ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    This is not even a little bit a good enough reason to resurrect a long-dead thread. Don't do it again.

    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
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