Monday, May 19, 2008

Chinese Food: Dumplings 饺子

I love being invited to a Chinese home, because the invitation usually revolves around a home-cooked meal. One of my favorite home-cooked Chinese foods is dumplings, or jiaozi, which are made by wrapping amounts of meat and/or vegetables in little dough wrappings and then boiling them. Wrapping the dumplings is a fun, easy cooking activity that even the most culinary challenged can help out with, but there is a bit of an art to it and mine are inevitably very nankan (ugly). Unlike with most Chinese foods, dumplings can make up a meal by themselves and are usually not accompanied by rice or noodles. Everyone is given a small plate for vinegar and hot sauce in which to dip the dumplings.

The Chinese sense of hospitality is very strong, sometimes even a little overwhelming. When you are a guest in a Chinese home they will attend to your every need and you are unlikely to leave without being utterly stuffed with food. I can even find it a little too aggressive sometimes, such as when the host demands that I "eat! eat!" every time I put down my chopsticks. The above picture is from a recent meal Nissa and I ate with four Chinese friends. The plates of dumplings (the light-colored ones in the middle) were replaced numerous times as they were finished by plates of freshly boiled dumplings prepared by the woman of the home. Gender relations are much more old-fashioned around here, and generally the wife continues to cook while the guests enjoy the meal and the men drink and smoke. There was of course a large amount of food left over after the meal, and the hosts wouldn't have wanted it any other way, or they would feel that they appeared cheap. This also carries over into eating out, and with the exception of casual meals among good friends a Chinese person might order twice the amount of food necessary. A man with a job in business or politics especially might spend a good portion of his salary treating people to dinner. It honestly amazes me that the Chinese are so successful at saving money.

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