Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Shenzhen Restaurant Sanitation

When I first moved to Shenzhen almost a year ago, one of the first thing I adjusted to was the food. It is very well known that different areas of China have vastly different cusine... which means that I wasnt initially used to the soups and the seafood.

One of the things I didnt expect to see was a difference in pre-meal practices. In Shenzhen, before any ordering or eating is done, everyone washes their bowls and utensils with tea. The process goes something like this:
  • First the hostess pours tea in the customer’s tea cup
  • The customer swirls the tea back and forth in the cup so that the tea touches all sides.
  • After doing so, the customer pours the tea from the tea cup into the bowl in a process that also passes the tea by the chopsticks and spoon.
  • The customer swirls the tea inside the bowl
  • He pours the tea into a communal bowl depository, which the hostess takes away and discards.

This process is supposed to help clean the utensils and make them more sanitary to eat from. (I don't know how effective it is.) It is definitely an established tradition that everyone here in Shenzhen participates in.

Recently, there have been increases in the number of restaurants that send their china and utensils out to be sanitized. After cleaning the china with their heavy duty machinery, the sanitizing company then sends the cups and bowls back in convenient and individually wrapped plastic. This is to ensure that all of the materials are clean and sanitary. Restaurants usually charge the customer 1 RMB for this service.

Although many customers do not think this charge is a big deal, the majority of Shenzhen is talking about this outrage. I recently heard talk radio programs condemning this unjust charge. Here’s their argument:

  • It is the restaurant’s duty to provide clean and sanitary china and utensils for their patrons.
  • Because it is the restaurant’s duty and responsibility, (many believe that) any cost for this should be within the operating cost of the restaurant and should not be directly charged to the consumer.
  • If this charge is to be charged to the customer, then it should be done in a fair way. The average cost for a restaurant to perform this sanitation service is only 0.40 RMB. Why are restaurants charging 1 RMB for the service?

This issue has been debated and talked about for the past weeks on the internet and different radio shows. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, keep a watch out for the nicely packaged china and utensils at a restaurant near you.


Caliboy said...

It seems like the pre-meal rinsing of utensils is a Cantonese thing. I saw it pretty often in Guangzhou and even Hong Kong when I visited my relatives in China in 1986 and in 1991.

Actually I thought it was a common Chinese thing for a long time until I moved to Shanghai in 2002 and didn't see anyone do that anywhere. And after traveling around China, I've failed to see it anywhere else.

I doubt it's effective though, the tea might be pretty hot, but it's no longer boiling at the point (otherwise everyone would burn their hands). But Cantonese seem very paranoid about bacteria (which is not a bad thing). I remember my aunt's apartment in GZ had its own UV sterilization cabinet.

Mike said...

To tell you the truth, I dont think anyone actually knows why they do it.

Everyday I eat at my factory cafeteria. We have aluminum prison-style food trays for our meals. The typical set lunch or dinner is 3 dishes and a soup.

For the soup, there are these cups that are washed. Next to it, there is a huge communal pot and a big spoon. It's crude but it gets the job done.

The funny part is that almost everyone picks up a bowl and proceeds to wash it out with a little bit of the soup before they pour the entire thing full. They want to sanitize it before they drink out of it. THe only thing is that 1. it holds up the line for the soup, 2. it doesnt really clean anything off and 3. their spoon, meal tray and food are probably just as clean/dirty as the cup...

but they do it anyways.

Cantonese people. gotta love them.

Rene Patnode said...

Up North in Harbin, they also rinse cups with tea in the same fashion, but don't do this to the utensils and bowls.

We don't yet have the cellophaned plate set, but I did see the same thing in Guilin in January.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I thought maybe the wrapped plates were a government regulation. It seems to have gone city wide.

stevo said...

thought maybe the wrapped plates were a government regulation. It seems to have gone city wide.