Meals as ritual
Unlike the typical U.S. meal, every meal in China, when you are a guest, takes on an aspect of ritual. Shared meals are always at a round table.
The round tables have massive glass "lazy susans"--I have never learned what they call them because it is just a normal table to them.
The host always sits with his back facing the wall--looking toward the entrance. The host's napkin is always folded in a special way.
Meals are always eaten in a small private dining room with a designated server.
Once four dishes have been placed on the table, drinks may be served. The regular drink served to everyone is HOT water---then should one rquest it, juice , beer or the (everclear) white wine may appear. The host makes the request.
Dishes are served only in even numbers. All the dishes are served family style except the last rice or noodles. If seven people are at the table an 8th bowl of noodles will be put on the lazy susan.
The food is delicious but not remotely like "Chinese food" in America. It is all fresh..many vegetables...in Lianyungang...the local preference is fresh seafood, the whole fish,and pancakes (super thin crepes)they are at most meals and one fills them with dishes and rolls them up and eats them with their hands. Fillings might be quartered hard bolied eggs, green onions, pickled vegetables, any random meat dish.
One of our specialities was a pork dish--roasted slowly with about a one inch layer of scored pork fat on top. Our hosts ate the fat and the meat, we picked at it and ate the meat part. Super delicious.
One evening one of our most gracious hosts requested a turtle dish for us. We did not realize that it involved a long cooking process--2 hours later the turtles arrived---individual turtles for each of us........we had envisoned perhaps a turtle soup............really.... and how does one with chopsticks approach the turtle in the bowl in front of you....our host was kind enough to demonstrate lifting off the shell and forging ahead...tearing off the limbs ...a bit more challenging.............