by Mike Bellamy in the book "The Essential Reference Guide to China Sourcing"
Trying out strange dishes is a great way to prove to your host that you are doing your best to respect the partnership and appreciate your partner’s culture.
But do not feel forced to eat a second bite if the first one is revolting. Even after 10+ years in China, I cannot stomach fish eyes or most of the internal organ “delights”.
But luckily just about every Chinese meal is accompanied by rice! Plus Chinese meals are served with many different dishes which are shared “family” style, often rotating on a lazy Susan in the middle of the table. So even if one particular dish is problematic for you, there will be plenty of other choices spinning past you.
If you find yourself in a situation where every single item is not edible, I have used the following explanations to remove the awkwardness, such as “the food looks beautiful and you are a great host, but my jet lag is causing problems with my stomach” or “I had had a large meal earlier in the day”.
Chinese restaurants sometimes look more like zoos or aquariums than eating establishment as the meats on the menu are often placed in tanks and cages at the entry way of the restaurant to show off what is on the menu.
As a foreigner you will naturally want to have a good look around and take some pictures for proof; as friends and family may not believe you when you tell them the restaurant had a live shark , snakes, every imaginable fish, crocodiles, strange birds and a small deer at the door way.
But be careful not to focus too much attention on any one creature, unless you want to eat it. Because being good hosts, the Chinese will assume that the one you are most interested in looking at is also the one you would enjoy eating.
Mike Bellamy is an Advisory Board Member & Featured Blogger at the not- for-profit China Sourcing Information Center. He is also the author of "The Essential Reference Guide to China Sourcing" and founder of PassageMaker Sourcing Solutions.