apple pie jameSo you, the non-Chinese “foreigner”, have Chinese business dinner guests and want to cook a Western American-style meal for them, and don’t want to take the easy way out by going out to a restaurant? Here are some considerations on preparing meals for people from the Chinese business culture visiting America:

Providing Options

Americans may tend to serve Chinese business culture guests lunch or dinner around a certain theme, like burgers and fries; pepperoni pizza; lasagna or spaghetti and bread sticks; steak and potatoes; grilled chicken and veggies, etc. In China, it’s common to serve meals with a variety of options, which is actually a good idea for those wanting to cook for their Chinese visitors to America. Give them more than enough options to avoid putting them in the awkward spot of having to eat something they really don’t like. And if possible, it’s always good to mix into the selection a few familiar Chinese dishes.

Foods to Avoid

What is it that Chinese really don’t like to eat? China is a large country with myriad of multi-ethnic / regional dishes, so it wouldn’t be prudent to make a list of foods that Chinese like and don’t like. But there are some general caveats to be aware of. Some of the most common foods to avoid serving your Chinese business culture guests might include very cheesy (especially strong cheeses–even like blue cheese) and overly sweet dishes. One Fujianese family was invited to Christmas dinner this year only to report back to us that they could barely stomach the overly sweet dishes. Many Chinese visiting “Chinese restaurants” in the U.S. ask for real Chinese food menus or go some place that cooks the food without American-style dressings and modifications.

Keep It Vanilla

Everyone knows that China has places that are famous for hot food (Sichuan to be exact–check out this Sichuan food blog for more on that), but when it comes to cooking a meal for your Chinese guests, don’t impress them with heat, exotic spices, or anything too weird. Yes, true, Americans go to China and come back talking about all the weird foods there: snake, mice, silk worms, scorpions etc. , but you’ll find it’s best not to surprise your Chinese friends with anything outside of their traditional comfort zone (unless they specifically express a willingness to experiment and enjoy a culinary adventure in your dining room). Even when it comes to dessert, keep it simple with plain vanilla, or even better, plain fruit (pineapple, grapes, orange slices).

Alcohol

It’s becoming more popular in China to give and receive fine wines during special banquets, so your Chinese friends may bring a bottle of wine to express their gratitude for your hospitality. But when hosting your Chinese business culture friends in America, you’ll likely find that women won’t drink at all and men (notorious for getting smashed over all night business negotiations in China) will even be shy about drinking like they might around the deal/dinner table in China.

Just Ask

Naturally, cooking for anyone can be a bit stressful, because everyone has their own tastes, and even food allergies. So, it’s always best to ask if in doubt, to avoid an awkward evening over food your Chinese friends won’t like (remember, a positive dining experience is a critical step to doing good business with the Chinese, so don’t take meal preparation lightly!)

Have any suggestions we didn’t mention here, feel free to comment.