Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to eat dinner at the home of my friend and sometimes office-mate, Y. She is from Taiwan and invited me over for real Chinese food. I thought she must have spent the whole day cooking, but she said, “No, only half the day, because frying the tofu and the beans takes a while.” There are no pictures with this post because I figured it might be rude to whip out a camera and photograph the dinner at her place. When I arrived, she asked if I wanted to have dinner the Chinese way or the American way. The Chinese way, of course was my answer since I might as well have the whole experience in proper context and then I found out that all this meant was that we’d have the entrees first and then the soup. For the main course, she’d made three dishes: fried tofu with peapods, carrots, ginger with shrimp and I think calamari, fried green beans with pork and another pork dish that was slightly spicy and really pleasantly flavored. For utensils, she gave me chop sticks and a spoon and a while later thought to give me a fork. Back when I was in college, I made a point to learn to eat with chopsticks, eating cheap food from Wong’s Wok when I lived a block from there and sometimes we’d order take out from the now defunct Yankee Yee’s. Back then, I’d eat as much of my meal as I could with chopsticks and eventually resort to a fork when I got frustrated. Y. was surprised that I could use chopsticks well. I never resorted to the fork, but I did find the spoon useful for picking up some of the tinier bits of ground pork and some of the rice when it began crumbling apart, which is the same thing she did.
After some eating and talking about the food and customs and how we each feel about Chinese restaurant food and what she thinks is good and what she’s observed about what Americans like about it and how we eat it, namely two people eating Chinese food together but ordering two entrees and then sticking to their entrees rather than sharing the dishes, we moved on to the soup which was basically a clear broth with some snake melon which I’ve seen for sale before, but with which I have never cooked. She also served it with a chicken leg in the bowl and explained that the soup was simmered with the chicken in it until tender.
Soup was followed by some commercially produced moon cake which she said was not nearly as good as the moon cake from her friend’s father’s bakery back home, but that it was of good quality for a packaged cake. I’m not sure how to describe the outer layer of the cake, but the filling (which is most of the cake) was green tea-flavored and not too sweet. We agreed that we like our sweets not too sweet. She also served some cherries and sliced plums and kiwis along with the cake.
We sat around and talked more, mostly about food customs. How American entrees are served plated most of the time vs. how several dishes are served to the table and then plated at the table and I did mention how sometimes, but rarely now it seems there are places that might serve fish fry or chicken dinners family style and said that when D. and I eat at home, we generally plate our food in the kitchen and then sit down with it though if we have guests, we’ll put the dishes on the table and pass them around. She told me about the traditions of barbecuing for the Autumn festival and about how hot-pot is a common winter dish. Eating this way sounds very social, leisurely and pleasant. She said that in the town where she grew up, her father usually came home from work for lunch and that it was also common for mothers to bring hot food to school for their children to eat at lunch.
Then she asked if I wanted to try red bean soup and I said sure. I had no idea that this was going to be a sweet cold soup, though I probably should have given various red bean ice cream desserts that I’ve had before. Y. said it was traditional for beans to be in a sweet preparation and that she had been quite surprised the first time she had a salty, savory Mexican bean dish.
All the food was great and we spent around three hours eating and talking. It was a fantastic way to spend an evening.
A couple of weeks ago, Y. had given me a recipe for fried tofu, similar to the dish she served last night, complete with pictures of the ingredients that would likely be unfamiliar. I haven’t made it yet, but I should give it a try soon. I worry that if I give it a try it might not work out so well.