Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wo xi huan Zhongguo fan

See that gibberish-looking post title up there? It means, "I like Chinese food." But I can't possibly explain how to say it properly, because Pinyin, the method of writing Chinese speech in English letters, has almost no connection to the way English letters actually sound in English. It's sort of like learning a whole different language in order to learn yet another language, which you still can't properly learn because no one in China actually uses PinYin, they use their ridiculous pictograms, and Pinyin is just for foreigners.

Tasty noodles

But the fact remains that I really like Chinese food. Most other things in this place are a big annoying Communist quagmire, but at least the food rocks. Some days, it's the only consolation.

I think what I like most about the food culture here is the communality of it. (Not to be confused with Communism.) For the most part, unless the food in question is a bowl of noodles, dishes are shared. Individual diners rarely even get their own plates any bigger than dipping bowls. All food is places in the middle of the table. When you order, you order for everyone, and then you eat everything on the table.

I've always been a fan of sharing food, mostly because I want to try all sorts of different things, not just the one dish I've ordered. Western food culture is such a selfish one. We get our own dish, and huddle over it until we've had our fill, then maybe go to the kitchen for seconds. Whole dinners can pass like that with us never meeting the eyes of our dining companions, can't they? But here, it's impossible to not keep conversation going when respective chopsticks continually meet over the dwindling shared bowl of Di San Xian. It is not a good culture for germophobes. But then, a true germophobe's head would probably explode promptly upon arrival in China, before even getting to a restaurant.

Giant hot pot

This is Hot Pot, in the picture above. I love Hot Pot. It's sort of like fondue, except, you know, not. There's a burner on the table, and you get a big pot of spicy, flavorful, delicious broth, and a selection of meats and veggies that you throw into the steaming pot to cook. Then everyone at the table sticks their chopsticks in there to fish out the boiling bits of deliciousness. It's the epitome of the shared food culture, and it's wonderful.

I am bracing myself for the day when I return back to America and find myself at a restaurant with people who do not share my love of communal food. I just know I will reach across the table and take someone else's food, and they will think I am some sort of disgusting barbarian, and then I will have to explain that I have been living in China, which will sound as weird as my saying that I was raised by wolves.


teaberry said...

i remain confused by hot pot. what happens to the broth? do you drink it after dipping the bits? do they reuse it on the next patrons? do you get a spoon?

also, i love you bunches. am in a bellydancing show on may 17! will be, at least, interesting!

Anonymous said...

Theres a hot-pot place in milpidas, and Tiffany and I went to this awesome-o chinese food place in san jose.

Inner Jib said...

When you come back, I am hoping you'll be able to cook a fabulous Chinese meal we can share.