Many of us enjoy going for a “Chinese”. Today I joined my hosts for a meal out. All the Chinese meals I’ve eaten in the UK are mediocre when compared with the food I ate today: Real “Chinese”! I have enjoyed top quality meals in London, but they are not as good as the wondrously delicious creations here. During the Cultural Revolution (ending only 25 years ago), most sources of entertainment in China were banned …but obviously you can’t ban life’s essentials! I think consequently, the Chinese developed a particular passion for food.
A Chinese meal is always shared. Dishes are ordered together and placed in the middle of the table. Everyone will have an individual cup and perhaps a bowl of rice or small plate, but most food you take straight from the serving bowls. You eat what you want, when you want – so this means you can eat more from a dish you like, and combine different flavours to your own taste. After all, how do you know how much you will want before you start eating? If there is a large table, food is placed on a rotating platform so that everyone can reach all the food. The décor of a restaurant is important in the West – but in China they think it detracts from what is most important: the food. Company is also essential in China, and they find it odd that Westerners may eat on their own. Even at lunchtime everyone takes the time off together and eats with their workmates. …Maybe this isn’t everyone’s ideal, but socialising as you eat does mean you take time over your food, which allows for proper digestion. This is exactly what western science advises us to do!
Everyone knows that the Chinese use chopsticks. This is a far more practical way to eat than using cutlery. Sure, it might be strange when you start to eat like this – but only because it is something new to learn. I didn’t find it particularly difficult. (Well, only when I had greasy fingers from Peking duck pancake roll. It’s probably best not to drop food from a great height into sauce…and certainly not a greasy black one! Erm, oops.) If you chop the food as part of the preparation, two bits of wood do just as good a job as different shaped bits of metal. Chopsticks are also easier to clean, they are cheaper, and you only need one hand to eat! But of course knives and forks are ‘civilised’ – as are the numerous rules of manners we have in England. Just what is the point of this? Our forefathers made up some rules and then used them to claim superiority over apparently ‘uncivilised’ peoples. Thank god we now realise how ridiculous this was. Why do we still aspire to be civilised? Table manners probably do make mealtimes prettier. So what?!! I always got the impression that being civilised somehow meant that you were a ‘good’ person. Chinese people slurp their soup, don’t always close their mouths when they chew and stick their elbows on the table – are they not good? Following certain rules does not mean you are good – it just means you can get people to think you are. One thing I love about China is that you can completely relax. Here, no one judges you on irrelevant details.
I think everyone should convert to eating the Chinese way. Are you not quite yet convinced? Well – the only washing up from a Chinese meal table is the serving dishes, perhaps cups, and those easy-to-wash chopsticks! Can’t beat that. The West isn’t always the best!