Every country places food at the centre of its culture. We both celebrate and commiserate with it, build relationships with it, and use it for fuel. It is such a central part of our lives that it often appears on television or in magazines and even makes it into movies as a major theme, both in the West and in Asia. Through these media outlets, we can see the love of food and dining out. Although there are similarities between the Orient's and Occident's dining experiences, there are also differences.
When I first arrived in Taiwan, I noticed that there are no set courses in Taiwanese traditional cooking. Food arrives as it is made and served for all to share. In the West, there is a set flow to the meal, from starters then onto the main meal and finishing with dessert. Food is often for an individual and it may be beautifully arranged, resembling a piece of artwork. More recently, Taiwanese restaurants, especially if they serve Western food, follow this practice. In the West, soft drinks will always arrive before the starters, whereas in Taiwan, they can often arrive after the meal, unless specified earlier.
第一次來台灣時，我發現台灣傳統料理沒有「套餐」的概念。食物準備好就端上桌讓大家分享。 在西方，從開胃菜、主餐到甜點有一定的先後順序。一份餐點設計給一人享用，食物重視擺盤， 常被視為藝術品。現今台灣的西式餐廳也遵照這個原則。在西方文化裡，不含酒精的飲料會在開胃菜前上;不過在台灣要是沒有事先提醒，飲料幾乎都是餐後上。
People can take anywhere from one to three hours on their meals in the West, especially in higher-end restaurants. You are probably wondering how can you spend that amount of time eating. People use this environment to converse and catch up with each other. Coffees are often ordered after the meal, almost creating another course and helping conversation flow. Some restaurants are savvy to the demand of a slow dining experience and offer a full course meal. This expands upon the typical three courses and can be anything from four courses to a dining extravaganza of twelve courses. However, most restaurants tend to offer less than twelve courses for a full-course meal.
You may be thinking that in traditional Chinese dining you can have ten dish meals, such as at a 快炒 or a wedding. There is a difference though to the flow of the meal. The dishes at a 快炒 tend to come out at the same time and are to be shared with everyone around the table. At weddings, although the dishes come out at different times, they tend to overlap the courses. In the West, each course is only served after the preceding one is finished. Food is designed to be eaten by an individual, with each course arriving for every diner at the same time. As a result, you can have a twelve-course meal for as few as two people, whereas the Chinese ideal would be to have around ten people to share the food.
中式外食，像是快炒或是婚禮辦桌，幾乎可以吃到十道菜。不過兩種的上菜流程也有差異，吃快炒的時 候每道菜在差不多時間上桌，大家分享共食;而婚禮辦桌，雖然不會同時上完所有菜，但幾乎是不停歇 地一道接一道上桌。西方文化則是一道菜享用完之後才上下一道。每道餐點都是設計給個人享用，每道 菜會在相同時間供應給每個用餐的人。吃一頓飯你可能會吃到十二道餐點，但在中式料理的觀念裡是大 家共享所有菜。
As expected from a twelve-course meal, there is a large price tag and people only order this for a major celebration. Even so, if you have travelled to the West, you may have noticed that dining out seems to be considerably more expensive than in Taiwan. When you are looking for a quick bite to eat, it feels that you might be limited to sandwiches or McDonald's. People do not dine out as much in the West as they do in Taiwan. There is an expectation that you can cook cheaper meals at home. Even if you do not cook, supermarkets cater for this with packaged meals. These are similar to the foods that you can buy at any convenience store in Taiwan. In contrast, there are also a lot of long-standing mom-and-pop eateries in Taiwan. As the name suggests, these are small independent establishments that are usually run by one family. They tend to offer simple home-cooked food for a very reasonable price.
For mid-range dining in the West, you can visit food trucks and gastropubs. Both offer high quality that is cheaper than dining at a restaurant. Food trucks offset their costs by refitting a truck with a kitchen and serving a limited menu out of a window. This means that you do not have to pay for waiting staff or other overheads associated with a restaurant. Gastropubs are the next step up from a food truck. They also offer great quality food but tend to be cheaper and less formal than a high-end restaurant. Often, they are located in a well-established pub, which means that you can also get decent wines and beers to accompany your meal. In Taiwan, there has been a recent spate of cafes that have opened over the last few years, serving mid-priced food and great coffees or teas. Some even have craft beers on offer too, creating Taiwan's version of the gastropub.
However, although offering similar quality in food and drink, the ambience can feel very different. In the West, the décor often includes carpets and curtains, which lead to a quieter eating environment as the soft furnishings help to absorb the sound. In Taiwan, the furniture and flooring are usually harder, which creates a noisier atmosphere. The ambience is also affected by children. In the West, there are family-friendly restaurants, but there are also many establishments that cater for adults only, especially higher-end ones. In Taiwan, from the cheapest eats to the finest dining venues, children are welcome.
Although there are differences between the dining cultures of the East and West, the ideas tend to overlap and food brings people together. I strongly suggest that the next time you visit a Western country, leave the 泡麵 at home and try the local food. You may need to pay more, especially if you have alcohol with your meal, but the experience will be worth it!