Don’t Be Caught Ignorant

The more I cook, the more I realize that in Asian cuisine, there’s hardly a meal with a big chunk of meat. Even when there is, like when they are serving you the entire duck (like Beijing Duck) or a good slice of pork meat (say, Tonkatsu), it is always served in slices. I guess that’s why we don’t use fork and knife, because we never need to. When the meat is too challenging to tackle with our chopsticks or fork and spoon, our fingers do not hesitate to lend some help, say when we’re eating pork ribs.

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I never thought much about this until one Christmas, my dad (who is a Chinese Asian through and through) displayed his fork and knife skills at a french table, but my parents-in-law ask for fork and knife when eating at a chinese table. This is NOT my way of showing poor etiquette and mocking them behind their back. No, my parents in law are amongst my favorite people on this planet. But I think being born in the East actually gives us a lot more advantage than we realize. Despite this Go West imbibement, we grow up in an environment that forces us to adapt. We were never the measuring stick, so we have to measure up with everybody else. We would not want to be caught dead being ignorant or uneducated. Worst, looked down upon.

I think we have reasons to be proud of. The way I prepare myself with a speech that if an Angolan ever mocks me again, I shall tell him/the little boy that until he can talk to me in Chinese the way I talk to him in Portuguese, shut the eff up. I have many glorious images in my head of this, but honestly my portuguese is not that good. Hey, at least I know what’s eff in Portuguese!

Anyway, I digressed. After reading my ranting, at least let me part you with some advice.

If you’re buying a chopstick, opt for the wooden one. Not the plastic ones. Preferably the bamboo ones, though last I checked at a Parisian Shop somewhere at Le Marais, a bamboo chopstick from Japan cost 16 euro per pair, which in this case keep your money and fly to Japan yourself.

Why the wooden one, you ask? If you want to know the perfect oil temperature before frying (180 C), in the absence of thermometer, dip in your wooden chopstick. If you see bubbles rising up surrounding the chopstick, you know the oil is hot enough. If you don’t see enough bubbles, it’s not ready. If you see the bubbles rising up like a mad bull spitting fire, you know it’s too hot.

Well, yeah, it doesn’t have to be a chopstick. Any wooden spatula will do. But hey, I’m glad for once I impressed ma belle mere, instead of the other way around! And boy, don’t I love it when she passed it forward to her friends.

And yes, H is well trained in using chopstick. Before I left Shanghai for the final time, KY gave me few sets of chopsticks as a wedding present. The chinese word for chopstick is 筷子 (kuai zhi) and though with different chinese characters, kuai zhi also means “quickly with a boy”, the greatest wish of many Chinese newlywed. Upon inspecting the chopsticks closely, H decided he liked the pair with dragon symbol the most. And since then, whenever we eat Chinese and some Asian food, he uses his dragon chopstick. I think he’s pretty pleased to show off his chopstick skills to his friends and family, as well as my parents. Especially when he’s holding the chopstick the right way.

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