I've been on vacation. Many of my Los Angeles friends had never met MG before. Last Christmas, I promised a couple of them that they would meet him before this Christmas. So MG and I went to my friend's wedding in the outskirts of LA and met a bunch of my high school chums. And by meet, I mean, we ate with them. Because when on vacation at home and showing someone around, what you're really doing is eating with a bunch of different people. So the next couple of posts will probably center on food... the food that has made me rolly-polly overweight. Really. Fat. FAT.

Starting with the menu for the wedding banquet:
Oh yeah, some very basic Chinese banquet fun facts and some etiquette...
(in order of how they appeared in my head)

  • The banquet is usually nine courses of lots of family-style food.
  • That lazy susan in the middle shouldn't be spun quickly. And move your tea cup.
  • Which way should the lazy susan go? Age and gender. Old grannies always first.
  • 1st dish: cold appetizer sampler which might include jellyfish (that yellowish gelatinous stringy stuff)
  • Do you need to try everything? If you have to ask, chances are you are not at the head table and that lazy susan isn't going to hurl food at your plate. So, no.
  • Do I have to finish everything my neighbor put on my plate? Sometimes, Asians like to put food on each others' plates (see me putting jellyfish on MG's plate). Don't make a big deal of it, but don't put it in your mouth unless you want to. Plates are changed every few courses, so you won't have to stare all meal at that fish eye that the little grandma sitting beside you put on your plate.
  • Why would I need rice/noodles at the end of the meal? The penultimate/ultimate dish is invariably a starch-laden tub of rice/noodles. This is actually not supposed to be finished. Though you may eat it, leave some of it in your bowl. This is an expression of fullness and goes to show that your hosts are good hosts for feeding you until you're comatose.
  • At many restaurants, when you see the waiters taking away a half-full plate of lobster, don't despair. Usually, they just want to put it on a smaller plate so that they can fit the other eight courses onto the table.
  • Slurping is OK. When you're eating soup in southern China in July, slurping it the only thing that will cool that soup down. So slurp away. Tea ceremonies in southern China also usually include a lot of slurping; it aerates the tea and gives it a different flavor.
  • The secret to eating rice with chopsticks: put it in your soup bowl. Smaller bowls are OK to lift from the table. Chinese people usually lift the bowl up to their mouths and shovel rice into their mouths with the chopsticks. This trick is very useful when you've got your rice drenched in soy sauce.
  • When you put your chopsticks down, lay them down. Do not stick them into anything (like a bowl of rice). If you do, Buddha will come and smack you upside the head. Chopsticks sticking out of a rice bowl looks like incense sticks used to pray, many times for the dead.
  • When you're out of tea, unless you're at a REALLY formal affair (black tie gala, or red dress gala in Chinese), lift the lid of the tea pot and set it askew. This is a universal Chinese waiter signal that you need more hot water for your tea. They won't refill tea leaves (which means the next batch will have minimal caffeine in it) but they'll add more hot water to the existing loose tea leaves.
I need to get back to work.


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