Monday, July 31, 2006

My kingdom for a bowl of rice

Continuing with today's theme of pet peeves (my apologies, ranting usually takes over when the blog muse is away)...

Just had dinner at Mao's Kitchen in Venice. It's tasty Chinese food that skirts the tricky border between authentic and Americanized. The atmosphere is trendy but not pretentious so a great place to relax and chat. Not a place to go if you're in a hurry since the service is questionable. But that's not the rant.

My genetic heritage is Chinese. As such, I am adept at the art of chopstick usage, I think the stubby Asian fingers help. In fact, as a kid I used to play a game where we'd compete to see who could move more M&Ms from one bowl to another. So needless to say, I like using chopsticks, Given enough incentive, I could probably catch a fly out of the air with chopsticks (albeit a retarded fly and with a very large set of sticks). What I can't do is eat rice off a plate with chopsticks.

So here's the thing: Americanized Chinese food places almost always put their food on plates. In addition, we all get individual plates; so everyone can share and do the happy family style thing. Sounds great, the Communists would be happy. Unfortunately, that's not how it works in China. The Chinese don't eat off plates, they eat off bowls. This is because chopsticks suck at picking up Chinese rice from a plate (it's loose, not sticky like Japanese or Korean rice). Here's how it's supposed to work:

  1. Pick food off plate with chopstick
  2. Place food on bowl of rice
  3. Pick up bowl of rice with food on top
  4. Bring bowl to face
  5. Use chopsticks to scoop food & rice into gaping maw
Unfortunately, here's what happened at Mao's (who, for the sake of authenticity, don't offer forks).
  1. Pick food off plate with chopstick
  2. Place food on personal plate with rice
  3. Fumble with rice, successfully grab 3 measly kernels and food
  4. Precariously bring loaded chopstick up towards mouth
  5. Lean ridiculously forward to catch food before it falls
Therefore, in the process of trying to be authentic, Mao's (like many other restaurants) has succeeded in making the process of eating Chinese food an entirely miserable experience. In what I can only describe as delicious irony: I asked for a fork. Seeing as I was the only Asian person at the table, this was kinda funny.

None of my companions asked for a fork. Most of them have not had the same experiences with how chopsticks should be used (with a bowl), so I can imagine that they were undoubtedly very frustrated at the entire process but were stuck in a dilemma. Do you give up and declare yourself a cultural invalid who can't use chopsticks? Or do you declare the Chinese a bunch of backwards savages that don't know how to eat? Either way, it's not conducive to impressing others at the table.

Anyways, my whole point is this: Don't hand out only chopsticks if you don't go all the way and give out bowls as well. You're dressing the part and speaking the part but you're busting out with the funky chicken when you should be bowing (I don't care how stupid that analogy was, it gave me a great visual so I decided to use it).

No comments: