HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
What's your latest food quest?
TELL US

Soup and tea at Chinese meals?

rworange Oct 30, 2006 05:44 PM

In a discussion about a SF Bay Area restaurant, one poster commented

"What I found to be intesting was the order the dishes came out.

Tofu
Chicken
Lastly noodles

Which led another to comment that soup is traditionaly served last in China.

To which another replied

"Well...maybe in Northern China. In Guangzhou, soup is usually served at the beginning of the meal. It is drunk as a beverage with the meal."

With a comment that ..

"Tea is not part of the meal so to speak in Southern China. My parnets did not premit water, tea or soda at home during the meal ... tea was to clear the dust from your mouth before starting the meal."

It goes on, here's the link ...
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

So ... are regional customs different? Why did this not filter down to U.S. restaurants ... or did it? I guess with broccoli beef ordering me it isn't something I'd pick up on.

  1. ipsedixit Oct 30, 2006 09:12 PM

    Well, my grandfather always said the following:

    Tea is to cleanse the palette, to better prepare for the flavors and richness of the meal.

    Soup is to "open the appetite" (bad English/Mandarin translation).

    So both are taken before the meal, with the soup generally followed by the tea. And, of course, tea was also served at the END of the meal.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit
      c
      Claudette Oct 30, 2006 09:51 PM

      At home, my parents and grandparents never drank tea until after a meal. Soup generally started a meal, and after dinner we'd all share the "fan del" - cold water poured into the darkened rice at the bottom of the pot. Never a dessert, except fruit.

      I noticed that things were slightly different at restaurants, though: tea throughout the meal, thickened (!)soup at the start, and mom always requested that the fish be served last instead of the noodles (so the smell and mess wouldn't interfere with the other dishes). I suspect that she prized practicality over tradition
      .

      1. re: Claudette
        b
        Blueicus Oct 31, 2006 05:21 AM

        My family also has this trend, if we eat at home the only liquids we have is the soup (always to start, although my aunt would always try and get me to drink more later). In the restaurant we would have tea throughout the meal and the soup would come near the beginning (while in a banquet situation the soup usually comes in the third or fourth item after a stir fry or stuffed crab claws).

    2. g
      gordon wing Oct 31, 2006 01:35 AM

      as a child I always felt a bit shortchanged because our parents never permitted us to partake of any beverages during dinner .... I did understand the logic to this, though. I saw many of my friends at school just washing down their food with a coke or milk. if you have to chew your food and take more time it probably is better for your digestion and nutrition. the noodles at the end of a meal ( especially a banquet ) are a symbol of long life .... eat them whole, don't cut them :~ )

      1. limster Oct 31, 2006 02:31 AM

        It's not rare to be served a pu-erh (sometimes blended with chrysanthemum) at the end of a banquet at the Cantonese places in Singapore -- it's supposed to aid digestion.

        Teochew places will serve a very thick and pungent tea, some varietal of oolong at the end of a meal.

        5 Replies
        1. re: limster
          Gary Soup Oct 31, 2006 02:41 AM

          The Chaozhou tea is known as "gongfu" (kung fu) tea.

          1. re: Gary Soup
            limster Oct 31, 2006 04:05 AM

            I thought that "gongfu" referred to the brewing method in a "purple clay" teapot, rather than the type of tea.

            1. re: limster
              Gary Soup Oct 31, 2006 05:17 AM

              You are right that the term refers to a method of preparation, not a type of tea, but the preparation method is one the produces a very strong and viscous tea. It does require a Yixing teapot, but it's something of an uncharacteristic use for this type of teaware. Here's a description of the method:

              http://www.chinavista.com/experience/...

              Our friends from Shantou serve this kind of tea after dinner.

              1. re: Gary Soup
                limster Oct 31, 2006 09:30 PM

                Great, thanks for the link! It's essentially the way I was taught to brew tea (except for boiling the water with the olive stones). I always thought it was universal and didn't realize it was unique to Eastern Canton and Southern Fujian (my family and the majority of Singaporean Chinese originate from there). The strength of the tea is adjusted by the temperature and the brewing time. What's different outside that region?

                1. re: Gary Soup
                  u
                  usr.bin.eat Oct 31, 2006 10:22 PM

                  I had one meal around Shantou where trays of thimbled sized cups of this strong tea were brought out on occasion during the meal. It was really only a couple sips, enough to clear the palate perhaps but not enough to wash food down with. That's what the beer was for.

          2. Gary Soup Oct 31, 2006 05:40 AM

            I guess there are both regional and semantic confusions of the issue. I'm only familiar with Cantonese customs from Cantonese restaurants in the US, and I always assumed that some concessions to Western practices are made. In Shanghai and environs, soup is nearly always served at the end of the meal (along with the rice). A notable exception would be an especially hearty soup, like "yan du xian" which really constitutes one of the mains (and isn't referred to as "soup").

            As far as tea is concerned, when I think about it, I don't recall being served tea with dinner at all in Shanghai, with the exception of the tonic Eight Treasure tea at some of the more formal old line places (and I never drank it anyway, because I couldn't stand the stuff).

            1. yumcha Oct 31, 2006 02:44 PM

              Wow, I'm beginning to think my family isn't really into traditions now...

              We always drink a ton of tea with our meals, we don't really care for soup and only order it every once in a blue moon or for special occasions.

              Then again, my siblings and I were REALLY picky and americanized.

              I'm finding now we're getting into a few traditions, but we're just really all about the food and enjoying eachother's company.

              1. jennjen18 Nov 30, 2006 07:16 AM

                Whenever my dad, a very Cantonese man, cooks, he would have soup at the beginning of the meal. But when mom cooks, who grew up in Shanghai, she would have the soup come afterwards. I prefer the soup before the meal though, because usually we would be so full after the meal that we cant have anymore soup.

                And tea, restaurants serve it throughout the meal, but dinner at home, we wouldnt have tea on the table. Even at the restaurant though, we would hardly touch our tea until we're done with our meal.

                1. k
                  KevinB Nov 30, 2006 10:14 AM

                  Wow, so much of here contrasts with my experience..

                  I'm white, but I married a Fukinese Chinese woman, and I belong to a mostly Chinese golf club in suburban Toronto (mostly Cantonese). I have had Chinese banquets in Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Australia, and soup was always an early course (usually following cold and hot appetizers). Tea has always been served as soon as you sit down, and I have often noticed older Chinese people using the tea to clean their utensils before using them.

                  In the almost twenty years I have spent with my wife, we have never had a Chinese meal where soup was the last course, and that includes eating at home with any of her six brothers.

                  1. r
                    ricepad Nov 30, 2006 02:17 PM

                    I never thought of this before, but when Mom (born in Toishan) cooked a traditional meal at home, she would usually start with soup, and not serve tea until the end.

                    1. Das Ubergeek Nov 30, 2006 11:37 PM

                      At every restaurant I ate at (whether alone or with Chinese friends) in Hong Kong, the first thing that got plunked down on the table was a big ol' pot of jasmine (or, less often, ba bao) tea... people drank it the whole time they were eating.

                      Soup usually came first.

                      Now, if someone could tell me why restaurants in Southern China simply didn't have napkins, I'd be interested to know!

                      Show Hidden Posts