吃各國食物的民俗講究

2010年秋天,我接了一個 case,幫一家位於西雅圖叫做 Restauranteers 的 start-up 寫關於吃食的稿子,他們說,希望很快地這個工作可以從無給變成有給,不過寫了七篇稿子後,無給還是無給,連個餐廳打折卷也沒賺到。不過當初接下這個工作,主要是因為我愛吃,也愛煮菜,對於美食相當有興趣,也順便藉著這個機會強迫自己多用英文寫作。最後,無給的工作果然撐不長,我就悄悄地從作者群消失了。回頭看看寫的那些文章,大部分都蠻 cheesy 的,因為他們要求簡短和商業化,所以寫了像是「吃港式飲茶的秘技」、「好吃的豆腐菜」、「水果也可以煮來吃」、「Belluvue 的鼎泰豐」等等自己也不是很驕傲的稿子。不過其他的還可以,所以把那些還可以的轉過來我的個人網站,做個紀念。

本篇:「吃各國食物的民俗講究」,原載:2010年12月29日

在台灣吃的日式小火鍋

A few weeks ago, I was meeting some friends at Naked Fish, a Japanese restaurant in Las Vegas. All of us ordered miso soup as a starter. When the soup came, our friend, Christine, asked the server, “Can you bring us some spoons?”

“Oh, we Japanese do not use spoons for miso soup,” she continued with a lighthearted tone, “Christine, since when did I give you a spoon when you ordered miso soup here?”

Japanese believe that a spoon would ladle out luck, which is bad karma. The authentic way is to drink the miso soup like drinking tea while using chopsticks to stir the content. Another interesting Japanese custom is that they slurp ramen because the motion is believed to make the noodles taste better. By bringing air in with the noodles, one can eat them hotter and therefore make the noodles more flavorful.

I grew up eating Chinese food. Chinese civilization has existed for thousands of years and there are of course many customs and superstitions associated with eating. The first time I brought some friends to a dim sum restaurant in the U.S., I gently tapped my index and middle fingers on the table whenever somebody poured me tea. One friend thought I was giving a signal meaning “enough!” In fact the gesture humbly means “thank you!”

I learned the gesture from my family, and it is hard to trace the real origin. However it is commonly believed that the gesture was invented by a servant of a Qing emperor on a disguised tour. The servant was terrified when his master poured him tea; however he couldn’t kowtow (to touch the forehead to the ground while kneeling, as an act of reverence) to risk exposing their identities. He wittily used two fingers to simulate kowtow to demonstrate his worship and obedience. Somehow it has come to mean “thank you” in a dim sum restaurant.

There are many other Chinese customs, but most of them are fading out. For example: 1. Never stick chopsticks straight up in a rice bowl because it looks like incense sticks in ashes honoring the dead. 2. Finish the rice in the bowl because left over rice will bring you a spouse with a pockmarked face. These customs reflect both traditional Chinese beliefs and the agricultural society the culture was once based on.

Once I visited Hyderabad India for a conference. Besides loving the Chai there, I had the chance to witness my colleague demonstrate how to eat Indian food with his fingers. It is considered a superior (not to mention authentic) way to enjoy Indian food. It was impressive to see his smooth action and elegant manner but I couldn’t even manage to break the nan with only one hand. He noticed my frustration and said “it is okay to use both hands; more and more people here have started to use forks too.”

I knew I was excused in the same manner that I would never consider it rude if somebody does not use chopsticks for Chinese food. However learning the authentic way is important and fun, especially when you travel to another country. The proverb, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” depicts it well. Using authentic customs is definitely the most effective way to shorten the distance between visitors and the locals.

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