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How to Order a Chinese Banquet

Every year I plan at least one Chinese banquet for my friends in Philadelphia's Chinatown. We always set one up for the Chinese New Year, usually Cantonese style. I like to pre-order so the food just pours out of the kitchen upon arrival. I make sure we get a bit of everything and everyone appreciates sitting back to enjoy without needing to browse a menu.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may know that I am planning a wedding. For our rehearsal dinner, it felt right to host it in Chinatown with a full family style banquet. I am tasked with setting a menu that appeals to both Chinese food connoisseurs (my family) and those who are certainly not (his family).

Here is how I do it. First, figure out how many tables you need and create a standard menu that each table will receive. It is easier this way.

Appetizers: Everyone loves dumplings and scallion pancakes, it makes sense to order enough so everyone gets at least one. In the winter, it is also nice to order soup- Chinese restaurants will usually offer big vats for sharing.

The Meats: For a special occasion like my rehearsal dinner, it is worth making an impression by ordering a whole Peking Duck- one per table. A cheaper alternative is crispy chicken. I will also order a beef and a pork. Orange Beef and Peking Pork Chop are not the healthiest options but are so delicious.

Seafood: Gauge your audience here. If they are adventurous and it is available, grilled fresh eel is a fun dish for a crowd; it has that semi squeamish appeal. Clams in black bean sauce is another one I love. A safer bet is always shrimp, salt baked will be familiar to most, its just fried shrimp. One of my guilty pleasures is walnut shrimp- served with a sweet mayo sauce, walnuts, and barely cooked broccoli.

Carbs: Fried rice is a good option for a crowd because it tends to be familiar. For a noodle, I will pick either a pan fried or a chow fun. One platter might not be enough for a table, so I'll explain I need an order and a half per table or give the total number that I need for the group.

Sides: Don't forget about vegetables. I always go for eggplant in garlic sauce and greens. My favorite greens are snow pea leaves. If those aren't available, I'll go with water spinach. I prefer both much more than bok choy. I'll also order 1.5 orders per table typically.

Dessert: You might want to bring this in yourself. I can't say I recommend most desserts served at Chinese restaurants.

BYOB: Check to make sure, not all Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia's Chinatown have a BYO policy. If they do, beer and crisp white wines are a good pairing.

You'll probably be surprised how low the bill is when you are doing this much sharing.

Some options for group dining: Ting Wong, Ocean Harmony, Shiao Lan Kung

Hope this was helpful, happy banqueting!

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