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Updated: June 15, 2010 16:47 IST

Check out the Chinese way

ROHINI RAMAKRISHNAN
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Yummy : But handle the chopsticks. Photo: S. R. Raghunathan
Yummy : But handle the chopsticks. Photo: S. R. Raghunathan

You love eating out, but the thought of wading your way through all that cutlery is intimidating. What do you do? Or how do you eat with chopsticks?

Do you feel awkward when handling cutlery, especially in restaurants? It's mind boggling really when you have a spoon for this and a spoon for that, a fork for this a fork for that, a knife for this and a knife for that…

But if you really think about it, it makes sense, for the knife that you use for fish wouldn't work for poultry or meat, for you need a sharper knife for meat. It's the same for spoons — it's only the rounded spoon or the Chinese soup spoon that you can comfortably scoop in the soup into your hungry mouth.

Kids Café recently organised a workshop on table etiquette at China Town with Patty Frank as the resource person. A group of kids learned how to behave at the table and the correct use of cutlery.

It started with the soup. The soup spoon is recognisable because of its rounded shape and its placement is the topmost spoon before you. Knives are interesting — fish knives are sharp, meat is jagged and butter knives are blunt.

Before you sit at the table, remember to wash your hands. There are a few do's and don'ts that need to be observed when you are eating out with your family. A polite and well behaved guest is always remembered (so is an ill-mannered one!)

Just see that you don't rest your arms on the table, pick your nose or teeth at the table (or anywhere for that matter.) When you feel a sneeze coming, turn away and sneeze into the napkin. Use your own handkerchief to blow your nose into and never into the table napkin.

Then, of course, the golden rule that your mom keeps reminding you “Don't talk with your mouth full”. This is rude as well as dangerous, for you might choke. It is also well to remember, not to reach out for things or pull them towards you. Instead politely say “please can you pass the …..”

The workshop also dealt with dealing with chopsticks. In Chinese cuisine, food comes in bite-sized pieces. So chopsticks are used as it is easier to handle them.

Handle with care

Hold chopsticks in the middle, so the ends are even.

Chopsticks are always held only in the right hand..

Chopsticks should not be used to move bowls or plates.

Do not point the chopsticks at other people or wave chopsticks around.

Do not suck the tips of chopsticks.

Do not bang your chopsticks like drums. It implies you are a beggar.

Do not stick chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice, it implies the food is for the dead. Symbolism in Chinese Food

Symbolism is a very important part of life for the people of China. A lot of Chinese foods are also symbolic, especially during traditional festivals or other special occasions.

For Chinese New Year:

Black moss seaweed - wealth

Dried Bean Curd - happiness

Chicken - happiness and marriage (especially when served with "dragon foods," such as lobster. Family reunion (if served whole)

Eggs - fertility

Egg Rolls - wealth

Fish served whole - prosperity

Lychee nuts - close family ties

Noodles - A long life

Oranges – wealth, luck

Chicken - part of the symbolism of the dragon and phoenix. At a Chinese wedding, chicken's feet (sometimes referred to as phoenix feet) are often served with dragon foods such as lobster. Chicken is also popular at Chinese New Year, symbolizing a good marriage and the coming together of families (serving the bird whole emphasizes family unity).

Peanuts - a long life

Peaches - peacefulness

Pomelo - abundance, prosperity, having children

Seeds (lotus, watermelon, etc.) — having a large number of children

Tangerines — luck

Recognise the region

China covers a large territory and has many nationalities; hence there is a wide variety of Chinese foods. Chinese food can be divided into eight regional cuisines, the distinction of which is now widely accepted. Certainly, there are many other local cuisines that are famous, such as Beijing Cuisine and Shanghai Cuisine.

Shandong Cuisine: Consisting of Jinan cuisine and Jiaodong cuisine, Shandong cuisine has shallots and garlic and pungent. Soups are the main highlight.

Sichuan Cuisine: Sichuan Cuisine, known more commonly in the West as “Szechuan,” is one of the most famous Chinese cuisines in the world. It is spicy and hot.

Guangdong (Cantonese) Cuisine: Tasting clean, light, crisp and fresh. The basic cooking techniques include roasting, stir-frying, sautéing, deep-frying, and steaming.

Fujian Cuisine: Combining Fuzhou Cuisine, Quanzhou Cuisine and Xiamen Cuisine, Fujian Cuisine is renowned for its choice seafood, colour and tastes of sweet, sour and savoury

Huaiyang Cuisine: Huaiyang Cuisine, also called Jiangsu Cuisine, is popular in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.

Zhejiang Cuisine: Comprising local cuisines of Hanzhou, Ningbo, and Shaoxing, Zhejiang Cuisine is not greasy.

Hunan Cuisine: Hunan cuisine consists of local cuisines of Xiangjiang Region, Dongting Lake and Xiangxi coteau areas. It is characterised by thick and pungent flavors. Chili, pepper and shallot are used.

Anhui Cuisine: Anhui Cuisine has braised and stewed food.

Keywords: Chinese food

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