What was on my table this weekend?
What was on my table this weekend? A knife, a fork and chopsticks. Why would I need chopsticks when I had a knife and fork? A couple of years ago someone asked me if it was hard for me to learn how to use chopsticks. I had to think a moment and my reply was I don’t think so, but was it hard for you to learn how to use a fork? I thought about this question and many other questions regarding my culture and the foods that I cook and eat.
Since most of the meals that we ate at home while growing up were served family-style, we used bowls and chopsticks. We had our main dishes in the middle of the table which included a meat dish, a vegetable dish and sometimes there was shrimp or fish as well. We always had our own bowl of rice and a bowl of soup which was made in a large soup pot that would last an entire week. At our place at the table we had our soup spoons and chopsticks. My parents taught us to use the chopsticks to pick up the food from the dishes in the middle of the table and place it in the bowl on top of the rice. We would proceed to bring the bowl up to our mouths and use the chopsticks to scoop the food in. As we got older and began to eat more “Canadian” food we would set the table with dinner plates, forks and knives and chopsticks. Sometimes we would have a mixture of steamed fish, Shake and Bake chicken and steamed vegetables. It would take a lot of talent to use chopsticks to eat a whole chicken leg. There have been occasions when my sister and I and are husbands have gone out for a Chinese meal. My sister and I will use forks and our husbands, who are not Chinese, will use chopsticks, and when we asked for forks the wait staff would automatically provide our husbands with the forks. You see, my sister and I were taught early on that it was okay sometimes to use a fork as it is quite difficult to pick up rice from a plate with chopsticks.
Here are some etiquette rules regarding chopsticks:
Chopsticks should never stand upright in your bowl. This gesture is to honor deceased family members. When not using chopsticks place them on the edge of your plate or on a chopstick holder.
Do not stab food with the chopsticks like a spear. This is considered poor etiquette.
Never use chopsticks to dig for the food you want. You should always pick something cloest to you, because whatever you touch is yours.
Do not lick or touch your lip with the chopsticks while eating, because most of the time you will be eating a “family style” meal. This means that everyone will be serving themselves from the same plate.
Do not make noise with the chopsticks. Playing with chopsticks is considered bad manners unless you are at a Chinese wedding banquet where using your chopsticks to tap on your glass to signal the bride and groom to kiss.
When you are finished with your meal, you can put the chopsticks across your bowl or plate. This will signal that you are finished with your meal.
Since I was taught these rules regarding using chopsticks and many other customs and traditions I guess it is engrained in my brain and when I see anyone break these rules I cringe a little bit. I have to remind myself that I was taught the chopstick etiquette and that most of my friends and extended family who are not Chinese have no idea that these rules even exist. I hope that by telling my stories I can educate my family and friends. And yet, even I have moments that I forget the rules. A few years ago when having Dim Sum, which is a Cantonese lunch, I taught my niece who was only about 8 or 9 how to stab a dumpling with her chopsticks. Since she was have trouble getting the food from the center of the table to her plate. My mom gasped and said “Lila don’t teach your niece bad habits!” Even though this was almost twenty years ago my niece and I still laugh at my faux pas.
So what was on my table this weekend? My husband made a delicious chicken and rice dish made in a clay pot and I made a plate of Chinese vegetables that were much easier to eat with my chopsticks.
Here is my simple recipe for Yau Choi (Chinese greens)
One bunch of Yau Choi (about 12 stalks) washed and hand torn in 2-3 inch pieces
Soy sauce 1-2 tsp
Sesame oil 1/2 tsp
Oyster sauce 1-2 tsp
Boil approximately three to four cups cold water. Once the water is at a roiling boil, add the washed greens. Add a pinch of salt and boil for five mins. The Yau Choi should be still bright green and the stems should be al dente. Remove from water and add seasonings to taste. My mom taught me that the cooking these greens the simplest and healthiest way is the best.
All the seasonings listed in the recipe are available in all the major supermarkets in Clark county. The Yau Choi and Gai Lan, which is also called Chinese broccoli are sometimes available at the Vancouver Farmer’s market.