One of the things I love about dabbling in foreign cuisine is paying attention to how different some of the details are. Sometimes, it’s a matter of what the kitchen looks like. Sometimes, it’s ingredients and what flavours they decide to combine.
Take, for example, Chinese cooking.
I recently had a chance to enjoy eating a very Chinese-style dinner at a friend’s home. They recently had their kitchen renovated, and wanted to test it out by inviting friends over for food.
The obvious difference is in utensils. You don’t have a fork and knife. You have two little sticks that you use to snatch up food bits with. You’ll get something that’s a cross between a ladle and a spoon if you have soup served, but otherwise, it’s chopsticks all the way.
Now, have you ever noticed the difference in pieces of food between Western and Chinese cooking? Chinese food tends to be chopped into smaller pieces, which makes them easier to grab with chopsticks. The same thing is apparent in Korean and Japanese food, which also rely on the use of chopsticks.
You will never see raw vegetables in Chinese cuisine. I realised that when a friend commented how the Chinese never seemed to serve any salad. A vegetable ends up cooked in some way, and never just steamed.
Bones are a huge difference, too. They don’t bother de-boning their meat. They chop it up, bones and all.
Something is fascinating and challenging about seeing a fish cooked whole. It takes a lot more effort to get the meat and pick out the bones than it does chomping down on a fillet.
There are no individual servings outside of a restaurant – that seems to be a concession to local ways. In Chinese, the food is served in communal dishes. There’s, say, one big platter for each dish. You have your individual plate, and you pick up pieces to place on your plate.
It’s a huge difference, I think, and it requires you to be patient. Sometimes someone might take longer to get the pieces they like, and you don’t want to be rude by interrupting them.
Spices are fresh. They’re part of the recipe, from what I can tell. You don’t see a whole lot of processed peppers and such, except as condiments. Personally, I’m starting to prefer the fresh approach.
One thing that threw me off was how the table was round. Someone pointed out that a square table was okay if you had individual servings, but a round table made it easier to grab food in the communal Chinese style.
The kitchens are mostly the same, at least. Some of the appliances are different. There are types of knives in Chinese cooking that aren’t common in Western styles.
Fresh fruits are standard desserts, not the more typical sweets in Western food. While I don’t mind it much, I prefer fresh fruits as snacks between meals. I also don’t quite understand the idea of serving tea as part of dessert.