1 Chinese Food

T. McArthur

“ F ew things in life are as positive as food, or are taken as intimately and completely by the individual. One can listen to music, but the sound may enter in one ear and go out the other; one may listen to a lecture or conversation, and daydream about many other things; one may attend to matters of business, and one’s heart or interest may be altogether elsewhere …..In the matter of food and eating, however, one can hardly remain completely indifferent to what one is doing for long. How can one remain entirely indifferent to something which is going to enter one’s body and become part of oneself? How can one remain indifferent to something which will determine one’s physical strength and ultimately one’s spiritual and moral fiber and well-being? ”

-Kenneth Lo This is an easy question for a Chinese to ask, but a Westerner might find it difficult to answer. Many people in the West are gourmets and others are gluttons, but scattered among them also is a large number of people who are apparently pretty indifferent to what goes into their stomachs, and so do not regard food as having any ultimate moral effect on them. How, they might ask, could eating a hamburger or drinking Coca-Cola contribute anything to making you a saint or a sinner? For them, food is quite simply a fuel.

Kenneth Lo, however, expresses a point of view that is profoundly different and typically Chinese, deriving from thousands of years of tradition. The London restaurateur Fu Tong, for example, quotes no less an authority than Confucius ( the ancient sage known in Chinese as K ’ung-Fu-Tzu) with regard to the primal importance of food. Food, said the sage, is the first happiness. Fu Tong adds: “Food to my countrymen is one of the ecstasies of life, to be thought about in advance; to be smothered with loving care throughout its preparation; and to have time lavished on it in the final pleasure of eating.”

Lo observes that when Westerners go to a restaurant they ask for a good table, which means a good position from which to see and be seen. They are usually there to be entertained socially-and also, incidentally, to eat. When the Chinese go to a restaurant, however, they ask for a small room with plain walls where they cannot be seen except by the member of their own party, where jackets can come off and they can proceed with the serious business which brought them there. The Chinese intentions are both honorable and whole-hearted: to eat with a capital E.

Despite such a marked difference in attitudes towards what one consumes, there is no doubt that people in the West have come to regard the cuisine of China as something special. In fact, one can assert with some justice that Chinese food is, nowadays, the only truly international food. It is ubiquitous. Restaurants bedecked with dragons and delicate landscapes-serving such exotica as Dim Sin Gai (sweet and sour chicken), Shao Shing soup, Chiao- Tzu and Kuo –Tioh (northern style), and Ging Ai Kwar ( steamed aubergines )- have sprung up everywhere from Hong Kong to Honolulu to Huddersfield.

2 How did this come about? Certainly, a kind of Chinese food was exported to North America when many thousands of Chinese went there in the 19th century to work on such things as the U.S. railways. They settled on or near the west coast, where the famous- or infamous-“chop suey joints” grew up, with their rather inferior brand of Chinese cooking. The standard of the restaurants improved steadily in the United States, but Lo considers that the crucial factor in spreading this kind of food throughout the Western world was population pressure in Hong Kong, China, which sent families out all over the world to seek their fortunes in the opening of restaurants. He adds, however, that this could not have happened if the world had not been interested in what the Chinese had to cook and sell. He detects an increase in sensuality in the Western world: “Color, texture, movement, food, drink, and rock music- all these have become much more a part and parcel of the average person’s life than they have ever been. It is this increased sensuality and the desire for great freedom age-bound habits in the West, combined with the inherent sensual concept of Chinese food, always quick to satisfy the taste buds, that is at the root of the sudden and phenomenal spread of Chinese food throughout the length and breadth of the Western World.”

There is no doubt that the traditional high-quality Chinese meal is a serious matter, fastidiously prepared and fastidiously enjoyed. Indeed, the bringing tighter and initial cutting up and organizing of the materials is, according to Helen Burke, about 90% of the actual preparation, the cooking itself being only about 10%. This 10% is not, however, a simple matter. There are many possibilities to choose from; Kenneth Lo, for example, lists forty methods available for the heating of food, from chu or the art of boiling to such others as ts ’ang, a kind of stir-frying and braising, t ’a, deep frying in batter, and wei, burying food in hot solids such as charcoal, heated stones, sand, salt and lime.

The preparation is detailed, and the enjoyment must therefore match it. Thus, a proper Chinese meal can four hours and proceed almost like a religious ceremony. It is a shared experience for the participants, not a lonely chore, with its procession of planned and carefully contrived dishes, some elements designed to blend, others to contrast. Meat and fish, solids and soups, sweet and sour sauces, crisp and smooth textures, fresh and dried vegetables-all of these and more challenge the palate with their appropriate charms.

In a Chinese meal that has not been altered to conform to Western ideas of eating, everything is presented as a kind of buffet, the guest eating a little of this, a little of that. Individual portions as such are not provided. A properly planned dinner will include at least one fowl, one fish and one meat dish, and their presentation with appropriate vegetables is not just matter to taste but also a question of harmonious colors. The eye must be pleased as well as the palate; if not, then a certain essentially Chinese element is missing, an element that links this cuisine with that must typical and yet elusive concept Tao. Emily Hahn, an American who has lived and worked in China, has a great appreciation of both Chinese cooking and the “way ” that leads to morality and harmony. She insist that “there is moral excellence in good cooking, ” and adds that to the Chinese, traditionally, all life, all action, all knowledge are one.

3 They may be chopped up and given parts with labels, such as “cooking, ” “health ,” “character ” and the like, but none is in reality separate from others. The smooth harmonies and piquant contrasts in Chinese food are more than just the products of recipes and personal enterprise. They are an expression of basic assumption of life itself. (1200words)

Essay questions

1. What is the thesis or theme of this essay?

2. Write an outline bases on your reading.

3. Does each paragraph have a separate central idea? Give each paragraph topic sentence.

4. Are there any proper transitions between paragraphs? Tick out the transitional sentences.

5. Is the logic sound in this essay? What kind of method does the author use to develop his essay?

6. Write a summary. (100words)


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