Lunch Break Chinese Style

The end of the calendar year in countries around the world has become the biggest shopping season of the year, with Black Friday from the USA being adopted by other countries, and now, Double 11s Festival, started by Taobao, becoming a global event over the last few years and celebrating its 10th year in 2018.

Countries around the world have different eating habits, especially when it comes to lunch at work. India is famous for its elaborate network of home-to-work delivery systems. American workers often eat sandwiches or salads at their desks. Spain made the siesta or extended lunch break and nap combination famous. Germans enjoy a proper full meal with colleagues and Brazilians go to pay-by-weight buffets.

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The majority of people in China have lunch from 12:00-1:00. Some people bring their own lunch, cooked by either themselves, their parents who often live with them, or an ayi (maid). Other people think bringing a lunch is too cumbersome, especially on the crowded subways with an average commute time of 50 minutes. It's common to go out to eat with colleagues or order delivery (外卖 wàimài).

Eating out quickly becomes expensive but many Chinese companies or office complexes have an in-house cafeteria that provides discounted meals for employees. The food is often simple, a few different meat dishes, some vegetable dishes, and rice, similar to university cafeterias in China. If there isn't a cafeteria in an office, there are usually some cheap and convenient options nearby. Convenience stores like Family Mart, Lawson, and All Days have packaged meals which they can heat up for you, as well as sandwiches, salads, steamed buns (包子 bāozi), skewers of meat or vegetables, and packaged snacks. A simple lunch can be purchased there for 15-20 RMB (2-3 USD).

Food carts often set up near office buildings or there might be some small restaurants nearby, selling beef noodle soup, dumplings, fried pork cutlets and rice, or other simple food for a cheap price. The only problem with small restaurants like this is that the safety and cleanliness aren't guaranteed. Some people prefer to eat at well-known chain restaurants because they can trust the brand's quality.

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Another popular and convenient option for lunch at work (or meals at home) is delivery (外卖 wàimài). There are a few popular apps to order food in China with millions of restaurants on each app. Delivery time ranges from 30-60 minutes with minimum orders starting around 20 RMB, depending on the restaurant. In order to beat the lunch delivery rush, some people order their lunch as soon as they arrive in the office. It's a popular topic of conversation, especially since the more you order, the better discounts you can get, so people like to order as a group.

Finally, people like to go out to eat at nicer restaurants as a big group every so often. Colleagues often order their own individual food then split the bill. Many restaurants have lunch specials, set meals for a fixed price. The most common way to eat a Chinese meal is for everyone at the table to share a few dishes. It will take longer for the food to arrive so this is less common at weekday lunches, but again, it depends on the restaurant you choose, and how much time you have for lunch... and if your boss is with you!


This article is part of our new online Chinese course. An efficient way to learn Chinese language for working and living in China.