Chinese family eating Meal 246We are always trying to make Chinese cuisine more accessible here at Cook in Shanghai and so this month we’d like to give you some tips on how to order Chinese food in a restaurant like a Chinese person.
This is a topic of great importance for many people here in China — almost everyone has their own way — but we’ve come up with some solid principles that you can follow to help you order like a pro for your friends and family!


Here we go:
1. The number one most important fact about ordering Chinese food is to remember that Chinese meals in restaurants are always family style (so everyone shares) with one or two people handling all of the ordering. Usually the host will order all of the food but a guest of honor may also get to pick a few dishes. If it’s not you, this is a good time to help make sure everyone has beverages and to be social. If you are doing the ordering, the rest of this list is for you!
2. Ask if anyone has any allergies, dietary restrictions or strong dislikes. This way you can make sure to alert the staff if there is a sensitive allergy and avoid foods that could be trouble for some guests.
3. Dinner in China follows a pretty standard format: cold dishes, hot dishes, soup, starch.

  • Cold dishes are usually small plates of all kinds of meats, vegetables, pickles, sausages, nuts, seafood and even fruit. They are usually served on small plates and are very similar to appetizers.
  • Hot dishes are what we think of the main dishes (the entrees in the United States) and can be meat, vegetable or a mix.
  • Soup is not mandatory but very common. Especially here in the southern part of China we almost always order soup with our dinners. There’s a huge variety in China so try to order something new!
  • Starches traditionally come at the end of the meal. The thinking is that if you are still hungry after all of the other food, you can load up on noodles or rice to fill your stomach. For that reason, rice is not normally served until the end of the meal but you can always ask the waiter for it earlier if you prefer.

4. When ordering, here are some guidelines for quantity.

People Cold Dish Hot Meat Dish Hot Veggie Dish Soup Starch & Other
2 0 or 1 1 1 1 0
3-4 2-3 3 1 1 0 or 1
5-6 3-4 3 2 1 1
6 to 10 5-7 7 3 2 2 plus 3 each small specialties

Various Chinese dishes5. Order dishes to maximize for a variety of ingredients, preparation methods, colors, textures, light versus strong flavors and degree of sauciness. You should only order one of each type of meat if possible. If you need to order multiple dishes feature the same meat, make sure the preparation method and flavor of the dishes are very different. You want to maximize a balance across the selection of dishes.
6. Be sure to ask the server if the restaurant has any recommendations but listen with a grain of salt. Sometimes they can push expensive dishes or dishes that the kitchen has large quantities of or may soon expire.
7. When seeking the freshest ingredients, the lighter the flavor of the dish, the more likely it is to be fresh!
Find these tips helpful? Have any others for for other readers? Let us know on our Facebook Page!