Chinese Table – Food, Customs, Traditions, Identities – by Mariya Taberko. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
[Image 1] Hot pot (火锅 huo3 guo1) seems to be everyone’s favorite meal, particularly on special occasions.
During my time studying Chinese in Beijing, our program would take each class to a local restaurant after the weekly Friday exam, and would treat us to lunch while we chatted with our classmates and teachers about things outside of course material. Because my class and the class directly above mine both had a mere two students each, we joined forces on Fridays and invited two office staff members, bringing our group total to about eight people every week. For every Chinese table, we would designate a different student to select a restaurant and reserve seats for our group—this way, we got to try all sorts of new foods from different parts of China. This is especially significant because in China, every region has its own distinct specialties, flavors, or even cooking methods, (their 特色 te4 se4). This is obviously different from restaurants in the US, where the variety comes not from different regions in America, but rather different nations’ cuisines.
[Image 2] Just one portion of one week’s Chinese table meal. This particular restaurant’s specialty is donkey meat!
I particularly love the Chinese table tradition at our program. Not only for the delicious (and free!) food, but especially because I get a chance to really get to know my teachers, and talk about all sorts of topics. And I mean, all sorts. Obviously in the beginning, when our Chinese was more limited, our conversations were much more simple. Towards the end of the program, we were able to move past topics such as “my hometown’s weather”, and cover more complicated areas of conversation, (such as instructions on how to prepare certain foods, or our future career aspirations, etc.).
[Image 3] One week’s busy schedule forced us to bring Chinese table into the classroom! Even take-away meals can be shared.
Chinese food culture really lends itself to things like Chinese table. In the United States, when
you go to a restaurant with a friend, you each order a separate dish, typically with individual sides included. In China, if you go out with friends, you each order what you want, and you share what you ordered with the table, (if you’re in a bigger group there is usually a lazy susan involved). For a typical meal, you would order a bigger meat dish, and some ?? (su4 cai4), or veggie dishes (these can be hot or cold, and are usually side dishes). Finally, each person can choose to order a small bowl of rice to go along with his or her meal.
[Image 4] You can usually tell you’re at a Peking duck restaurant by the chopstick holders.
Though each Friday’s meal was unique and delicious, my favorite meal was from our last Chinese table. Since our class saved up quite a bit from our weekly restaurant budget, our teachers thought we should go somewhere special for the last Chinese table. After throwing around some ideas, we finally decided on a local Peking duck restaurant.
[Image 5] Sitting around this beautiful spread of delicious food, we reflected on our growth since the last time we all ate Peking duck together, during our very first Chinese table in Beijing.
Mariya Taberko, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, Global Studies – 2017
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