Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Sep 3, 2001 07:28 PM

Water at Chinese restaurants

  • b

Had excellent dim sum at Mayflower recently, but could not get a glass of water to save my life! A dozen requests were greeted by variations of, "Oh yes, right away," but I never got any.

This has been a recurring theme in Chinese restaurants, in my limited experience. They don't serve water, or if they do, it is a tiny glass and they never come around to pour refills. Can anyone explain why this is or what, if anything, can be done about it?

Perhaps I should just take a big bottle of water with me the next time I go out to a Chinese restaurant.

Is it me, or has this happened to others?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Never went to Mayflowers so I can't voucher. Did you got a pot of tea and a tea cup instead of a glass of water? I don't remember any dim sum place giving water instead of tea. "Eating dim sum" in English is equivolent to "having morning tea" so I guess that's why.

    1 Reply
    1. re: tingting

      Wow...that must be why the Chinese call it "tea lunch".

    2. m
      Melanie Wong

      Part of the reason is that in their heart of hearts, they believe drinking cold water is bad for you. You're supposed to have hot tea or hot water with your dim sum. Requests for cold water are the exception to the rule.

      Some of the places that try to cater more to Western tastes will offer water. You need to request it as soon as you sit down before you order anything else, otherwise you'll never get the server's attention again. Also, I've noticed that some will put bottled water on the table that you can purchase.

      1. I completely understand your concern. And let me state that, IMO only, that service as well as atmosphere come secondary to the food in many Chinese restaurants - contrary to what we would normally expect of a good Westernized restaurant which ideally balances the three parts somewhat equally. As an American-born Chinese who has been to plenty of Chinese restaurants in my lifetime, I think it's a safe assumption to make. Of course, this is not to say I condone their practices, as it still irritates me when the servers don't "remember" my request for a glass of water for my son. So I say, go ahead and take that bottle of water out if they fail to bring you a glass after you've requested it. They probably won't even notice it.

        BTW, the more Chinese restaurants you go to, you may also begin to notice that many provide puny-sized napkins. Like the water, you'd think the napkins were being rationed!

        10 Replies
        1. re: Richard

          Hey, can I quickly point out two technical issues without making you feel unwelcome or picked on?

          1. though I realize it's standard practice in some 'net discussions, we strongly discourage users from changing subject titles unless the topic has digressed (and thus needs a new title). Please do all communicating via the body of your posting, not via the title.

          2. we have tens of thousands of members, so it will be hard for us to get to know you with an undistinctive nametag like Richard. And we do want to get to know you (and your food prefs) as a member of the Greater Chow Community. So maybe come up with something catchy, distinctive, creative than just plain "Richard" (I personally like "Mr. Blue Tooth"....but that's your choice, not mine!).

          Glad to have you here; I"ve been enjoying your postings!


          1. re: Jim Leff

            Hey Jim,

            Sorry for violating Chowhound protocol. I've seen many other posters doing the same thing so I thought nothing of doing the same. But, I shall graciously bow my head in shame. I am indeed a member of other message boards in which the rules are less stringent but only have been here regularly for a few months. So, while I don't completely agree with the suggestions, I'd gladly follow them from now on.

            As for the name, I haven't seen any Richards around since I've been here, but from now on, I shall post as Mr. Bluetooth.

            P.S. Note that the new handle has nothing to do with my teeth :)

            1. re: Richard

              "I've seen many other posters doing the same thing so I thought nothing of doing the same."

              Yeah, it's tough to stem that tide, though I post similar messages on various boards several times per day. If I were to reply to every single poster doing this, we would indeed seem "stringent".

              As for your agreement with the policy, as with many of our moderating requests, you're likely unaware of our perfectly reasonable rationale (though I'm pleased you've given us benefit of doubt).

              You see, many of our users use a feature called HotPosts to read these message boards. HotPosts (which you can find linked to atop our home page) allows you to read only messages posted since a given date, so you can see only new stuff. Since HotPosts (which is great) only presents individual messages and not their thread neighbors, postings undescriptively titled "File Under Sad But True" or "Ok, I'll try the coffee" or "And Another Thing..." leave your fellow hounds in the dark in terms of choosing stuff to read.

              now that this has been explained, and once you see how great HotPosts is and how frustrating this title situation is, I'm hoping that perhaps you'll consider helping me explain this to other newbies you see doing this.


              1. re: Jim Leff


                I have been one of the many culprits on the thread title changing conspiracy!

                I wasn't aware of the functionality of this item. Like Richard (bluetooth?), I contribute on many boards and never came across this particular feature. I'll refrain from changing thread titles, but I'm sure you do know that having a title that reflects the body of your message is very helpful in quickly extracting the wealth of information available here and reducing navigation time (thus also reducing impact on your servers/bandwidth).

                It seems, from a technical stanpoint, that the thread info can be easily stored in an extra field not related to the thread title. This would allow Hotposts users to retrieve all posts under a thread despite differences in titles, and would give the posters the opportunity to alter the titles in an attempt to more accurately describe the content of their posts, which would improve site navigation and result in a better user experience.

                1. re: garçon

                  Garcon, if you are posting on several boards, then you absolutely should try the "hot posts" feature. It is featured prominently on the chowhound main page, and also, if you scroll down far enough, on the California boards page.

                  That link will give you every new message since the desired date (defaults to today's date) for the message boards. That way, if you read chowhound regularly, you don't have to scroll through miles of posts you've already read or load each board separately. This feature is especially helpful if there's a new response to a thread buried way down the board (as there are lots of now with all the new posters).

                  The whole point is that the older posts are filtered out (and you don't have to wait for them to load). You can always access the previous messages by clicking on the link following "in reply to" in a message. But it sure helps to be able to glance at the header and see if the discussion was one you were following.

                  For example, I read every post on the SF Board and the General Topics board, but only ones that look interesting/applicable to me on the regional boards. I may not even be able to find a response to something I posted on one of those regional boards if the respondent changes the header to "here are a couple of suggestions" or "I disagree".

                2. re: Jim Leff

                  Didn't read this thread until now. I didn't realize I was doing something that's bad also. Will stop from changing topic now in the future.

                  1. re: Wendy Lai

                    Wendy--nothing "bad"! We've just got a lot of chowhounds crammed into rather cheesy little message boards, all held together by the software equivalent of paper clips and string. I'm trying desperately to keep it all organized and smoothly usable for the benefit of all our users.

                    Otherwise our content would devolve into being even more chaotic and unwieldy than it already is. We've got a plan to really soup things up and make everything completely organized and searchable, as "normalized" as Zagat, only maintaining our vastly superior savvy, depth and currency. We're hoping to make it happen, if we can scrape together about $30K.

                    Meanwhile, bear with me as I chime in monotonously about silly things like thread titles and nametags!


                    1. re: Jim Leff
                      Melanie Wong

                      Thanks for the explanation, Jim.

                      Knowing that you need $30K for improvements helps put in perspective our volunteers' efforts in San Francisco to make a financial contribution to the site.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Your efforts (aside from the fact that the picnic sounds like just an amazingly great afternoon) are indeed appreciated.

                        We're also hoping that our impending ChowMarket (selling all sorts of chowhound merchandise and necessaries) proves popular with everyone. It's taken a lot of work, but we're nearly there....


                      2. re: Jim Leff

                        Sorry I missed the ball with a nametag. Love your site, and appreciate good food - even way down here where all the food is grown. There is a saying - "Can't bring culture to agriculture", but we're trying to change that.

            2. Melanie quite rightly advises the true reason for your lack of success obtaining cold water in a Chinese restaurant. Chinese have a view that you should only take warm fluids into the body eg tea and warm water (kai shui).There appears to be a significant body of research to suggest that this is supported by fact. Constant intake of iced cold water can affect the stomach juices to the extent that stomach ulcers and swallowing problems develop.If you are so irritated by Chinese custom, perhaps you should examine your reasons for attending Chinese restaurants. Is it to enjoy the possibility of a distinctive cultural experience?If so, embrace that difference and enjoy it in totality.Think of it this way, Chinese families also have to suffer: they can't normally obtain Jasmine Tea when they visit In and Out Burgher.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Panpan

                I don't think drinking water during meals is bad for you, it's probably the opposite. If you were fairly thirsty and have a whole pot of tea with your meal, than can't be good either...

                It's the putting heaps of ice into a glass and topping it with a little water that's bad. In Europe, you get a glass of cool water along with your meal, sometimes with an ice cube or two. When you ask for a bottle of mineral water, it comes cool, about the same temperature as a white wine, not ice cold. I'm not sure why American tastes are conditioned to drink melted ice with their meals, maybe it has to do with the soda fountains at fast food (cheaper to stack a glass with ice than with soda syrup?).

                1. re: garçon

                  As far as drinking beverages with Chinese meals - having dim sum is partially about sipping tea-especially teas that aid in digestion and "cut the grease" if you choose to have some of the fried items. ( like most meals, it probably is a good choice to have a variety of items when dining: some steamed, some fried, a bit of savory, a bit of sweet ....) In my family, with regular meals we sometimes had soup - usually in the beginning and then not during the meal. The food should not be washed down with a drink, as is often the case when folks are in a rush (and when are kids not in a rush?). Probably not a bad idea to slow down and chew your food - maybe even get a bit more from it nutritionally, to boot? But I think that a lot of Chinese restaurants are somewhat used to the requests for ice water - even from Asian families- how quickly they fill the request is more a reflection of how well they can respond to customers and not necessarily a philosophical issue. A week ago, we had tea in Chinatown at Asia Garden and found some of the servers far from exemplary. Even had trouble getting one server to cut a plate of sesame rolls in half with out a lot of attitude. Best not to take it personally.

                2. re: Panpan

                  Just because someone wants to drink cold water while eating chinese food, does not mean that they "should examine [their] reasons for attending Chinese restaurants." People generally go to a restaurant to enjoy the cuisine, not to envelope themselves so fully into the cultural experience to discomfort themselves. Such events should be reported, and commented upon because it becomes a part of the dining experience, not just the cultural one.

                3. Dim sum without Chinese tea is like Starbucks without coffee.