Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Oct 30, 2006 05:44 PM

Soup and tea at Chinese meals?

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.

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 ...

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. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. 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

      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

        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. 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. 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

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

          1. re: Gary Soup

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

            1. re: limster

              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:


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

              1. re: Gary Soup

                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

                  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. 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. 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.