In the UK, USA, Germany, France and lots of other Western countries, it is customary to say something like “bon appétit” or “Guten Appetit” to each other before starting a meal. Many of InternChina’s interns, especially the ones living with a Chinese host family, have this question: how do you say “bon appétit” in Chinese? When my Chinese friends and I heard this question we were stumped for an answer.
My answer is: we don’t say it normally.
If you say it according to your translation software or dictionary it would be something like “zhù nǐ wèi kǒu hǎo” 祝你胃口好！ Chinese people will either not understand it or think you are being funny. We don’t say it this way.
But, in some cases we use some similar words to express our friendship and thanks. However, these will usually be said by the hosts, and if used in the wrong way, or said by the wrong people, it may seem awkward and strange.
So what can you say??
1. “chī hǎo hē hǎo” 吃好喝好
Which literally translates as “eat well and drink well”. It actually means “enjoy your meal”, however, and is said by the host. At larger events, with more than one table such as birthdays, weddings and business events, the host or representative will usually come over to each table to great the guests.
2. “màn màn chī” 慢慢吃
This literally means “eat slow”.
This saying has the same meaning as “chī hǎo hē hǎo” . Or you are really eating too fast, and people are trying to warn you to as it’s bad for your health. 🙂
3. “qǐng màn yòng” 请慢用
Literally means “please have it slow”, but a more correct translation is “here is your meal/drink, enjoy it”, and is used by waiters/waitresses in restaurants/bars only.
Similar words like “màn zǒu”慢走 on the surface means “walk slow” its real meaning is “take care on the way”.
4. “chī chī chī” 吃吃吃
Literally means “eat, eat, eat”, though it can be translated as “let’s start to eat and enjoy the meal”.
Again said by the host, it is normally only used when there is a small group of close friends or family members at the table. This phrase is very popular and if you live with a host family you will hear this a lot. It’s important for you to know the actual meaning of the phrase, otherwise it could seem like they are being very rude in ordering to eat a lot.
Some Chinese people like to say kāi chī 开吃 (start eating), kāi dòng 开动 (start), dòng kuài zi 动筷子 (start) …. Of course the expressions can vary in different dialects in China, but if you follow my phrases then you will get by just fine!