The China Experience: Drinking Customs


As in any culture, China has its own set of customs and traditions when it comes to sharing beer and celebrating with friends and family. Explained simply, these sound like rules, but the flow is rather laid back and friendly. As a foreigner I wanted to learn as much about the traditions that accompany drinking culture as much as I wanted to learn about the beer itself!

To delve into the setting, I should first explain what Hot Pot is! A Hot Pot is a meal enjoyed in Chengdu and many parts of Asia that involves the gathering of friends and family around a boiling pot, inset in a table, filled with a deliciously spicy stock. Different meats and vegetables are cooked in the soup throughout the meal, which typically lasts between 1.5-3 hours long. (It truly is an experience in patient eating and savoring the meal!). Ingredients I saw cooked in this magical concoction include lotus root, tofu, lunch meat, rabbit kidneys, duck tongue, duck blood, intestine, stomach lining, mushrooms, shrimp paste, and other various vegetables. During this time, beer and wine are consumed.

When it comes to drinking in Chengdu, moderation and hosting guests are very important. I found this restaurant experience to be very similar to the bottle service you receive at clubs in the U.S. — the host orders the beverages and treats the guest to small and steady pours over meals. The glasses used to drink beer and wine are about the size of a shot glass, so this is a continuous motion throughout each meal. As a sign of respect and modesty, it is important to wait for the host’s queue and give them the honor of pouring your drink.

Here Kevin toasts with his cousin-in-law, over hot pot at a restaurant. © Heather Hanson Photography LLC

Presentation is everything. Each time beer is poured by the host, it’s a sign of respect to you as a guest as well. Tradition dictates that when a drink is poured, you must accept the cup with both hands. If you missed the drink being poured, it is polite to tap the table twice as a sign of thanks to the host.

Similarly, when receiving a toast, your glass should be held lower than the person toasting. This sometimes becomes a spirited competition to see who’s glass get’s the lowest, until ultimately the glasses hit the table.

By this time in a meal, you’ve heard “Gan Bei” 干杯 several times, which has a similar meaning to “Cheers”. This is said after each toast before drinking, which occurs many times throughout the event (similar to what we see in the U.S.). All of these small gestures bring a welcoming and friendly atmosphere to each meal.

Qiuxia’s cousins peek out from behind a bottle of Brimstone being shared. © Heather Hanson Photography LLC

Overall I found the drinking customs in Chengdu to be charming and a nice change of pace from what I was used to in the United States. I think there is still so much I could learn, given more time, but for now I am left with good memories of amazing friends in Chengdu.

Cheers! 干杯 (Gan Bei)


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