The other day I was thinking how common it is in China to go outside to eat, even for families with children. When I was a child in Spain, we basically never went to restaurants unless we were somewhere on holidays, so eating outside felt like a very special treat. My first memories of going to a restaurant in my hometown are actually in a Chinese restaurant when I was maybe 10 or 12. It might have been a newly opened restaurant and we went a few times on weekends so my mum didn’t have to cook (in our house it was always my mum cooking, never my dad).
In China, people love eating outside and it is one of the main social activities, whereas in Spain that would be drinking coffee or having some drinks in the evening. I’ve sometimes heard that Spain is the country in the world with the most bars per inhabitant; I’m not sure if China has more restaurants per capita than other countries, but it does feel like that! And even though there are a lot of restaurants, most of them are always crowded on the weekends. In the malls, the most popular ones have chairs or stools outside so people can sit while they wait for a table. There is a hot pot restaurant that is always super busy and they have dozens of small tables outside where you can sit to wait. They even serve you drinks and snacks for free!
When I arrived in Beijing as a I student, I was surprised at how cheap it was to eat outside. During my first week there we had dinner once in a rooftop terrace near Houhai and we split the bill. It was something like 10 RMB per person! If you consider the amount of money and time you have to spend buying groceries, cutting and preparing them, cooking, and then washing the dishes, it made much more sense to eat outside every day. And that’s what I did during my student years, every day, for lunch and dinner. There were a lot of restaurants available around campus and the university canteen was also an option where you could get a full meal with rice and meat or veggies for something like 4 RMB.
Some examples of cheap and tasty Chinese food:
Every time I remember the prices I used to pay for food in Beijing I can’t help but thinking how expensive China has become in the last 10 years! Or maybe it’s me, I got fed up of the cheap hole-in-the-wall restaurants and when I go out I choose a nicer (and more expensive) place.
When I was eating outside every day, after a while I thought it was exhausting to have to decide where to go. Now I cook at home and only eat outside sometimes on the weekends, but having to think every day what to cook is also quite tiring! Now I understand why my mum was always asking “What do you want to eat tomorrow?” when I still lived at home…
Do you often eat outside or do you prefer cooking at home?