Friday, October 06, 2006

Dining in China

Dining in China is usually done family style, and round tables dominated by a lazy suzan are common. Dishes are brought to the table in random order throughout the meal; just when you think you're finished another one appears. The plate of melon slices is the only sure way to know that your dining experience has come to an end. Unless the dish is a soup, your own chopsticks also double as serving utensils, so you can't be too squeamish about your neighbors' chopsticks touching the food.

Chopsticks are a fun novelty for the occasional visit to a Chinese restaurant back home, but let's be honest -- unless you're eating sushi, forks are the way to go. Have you ever eaten a serving of soy beans, one at a time, with chopsticks? Or how about soft, slippery tofu? The Chinese have a short cut for these situations - hold the plate to your mouth and shovel it in with your kuaizi (Mandarin for chopsticks). Loud slurping sounds are perfectly acceptable, especially for long noodles, by the way.

You had also better get used to bones. Fish, poultry, frog, pork, beef -- it's all served with plenty of bones. Whole bone-in chicken is commonly chopped into half-inch cross-sections, so dodging jagged bits of bone is a necessity with every bite. (Anyone remeber the Simpons episode where each of box of Krusty O's cereal features a bonus of jagged metal Krusty O's?) Many types of fish are so packed with annoying little bones that's it's just not worth the effort to eat - especially with chopsticks. In another case of western ettiquete clashing with eastern, the Chinese seem to favor the technique of spitting out the bony bits after chewing.

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