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“Chinese culture is family-based. Everyone wants to have a group of people eating toget
her, so eating is more of a collective behavior. People either eat with family members at home or with colle
agues and clients at work,” said Cai Yani, who has directed a series of short videos about solo dining.
Eating together is considered crucial for family bonding. On a typical Chinese dining table, one rarely finds dishes for indi
viduals; instead, there is usually a range of dishes－meat, fish, vegetables and soup－for everyone to share.
Restaurants usually boast round tables with a rotatable surface, known as a “lazy Susan” in the West, to make sharing easier.
The move away from the traditional sharing approach is largely due to a demo
graphic shift in the country, especially a sharp rise in the number of unmarried people. Statistics from the Mi
nistry of Civil Affairs show that more than 200 million people were living on their own in 2017.
The topic “Hotpot can be eaten by one person” has attracted about 56 million hits and more than 17,000 posts.
Cai Yani started dining alone in 2012, just after she quit her job as a maga
zine editor. During her period without work, she ate alone, but she discovered that ma
ny restaurants, especially those serving stir-fry, were reluctant to receive solo diners.
In response, Cai started filming her Solo Dining series. Each episode lasts about three minute
s and features one meal made by one person. The short series has attracted millions of views on Youku, a vid
eo-sharing platform in China, and its social media account has more than 1 million followers.
She believes the growing popularity of her films, as well as many othe
r videos and publications dedicated to eating alone, is not only due to the rising number
of singletons in China, but also the growing stress of living in big cities that pushes people to seek comfort in food.