When it comes to eating in Chinese culture, there are quite a few dining etiquette rules one should be mindful of. It could be eating with a Chinese family at a boisterous Chinese banquet. Or it could be a more casual dining affair with Chinese colleagues from China over business lunch.
Coming from a stereotypical Chinese-Malaysian family, these Chinese eating customs surrounded me all my life. I’ve always found them odd to be honest, but always found myself sticking by them.
Fighting over paying the bill for meals is something some of us are guilty of. If we’re the stereotypical Asian eating with other stereotypical Asians, coming out on tops to pay for a meal is often a big battle, sort of a sport in itself.
This is the case with my Chinese family. When I was a kid living in Malaysia, we had countless family gatherings with extended relatives. We’d have dinner at air-conditioned Chinese restaurants where waiters gave us clean plates after each serving. These nights always ended with lots of yelling, relatives arguing at the top of their lungs as to who would pay for the ten-course meals in cash.
In Chinese culture (and other Asian cultures), offering to pay the bill at the end of a meal out is regarded as polite. This goes for family and business-related dining affairs, and no matter the occasion, bill fights are usually amusing.
It’s no secret Australia likes takeaway food, or taking away food to eat at home, work or elsewhere. On average, Australians make 30.5 million takeaway visits each month. With more eateries than we can count around many a corner in Australia, deciding on and picking our favourite takeaway can be hard.
Takeaway food is something I get most days. During weekday lunch hours, I usually find myself wandering out of the office and buying some food from a nearby shop, and then wandering to the park across the road and eating lunch there. There’s something liberating about taking away food and eating wherever we please; where, and what, we eat is a personal choice.
These days we can take away pretty much any dish and cuisine. Just like the debate over choosing our national dish, Australia’s favourite takeaways change from year to year, and from state to state too. Not much of a surprise since our tastebuds change over time and each of us feel differently about different cuisines.
Meat. It’s something millions of Australians love to eat. Chicken, pork, beef, lamb and fish gastronomic delights usually aren’t too far away when we venture outside for food in Australia. Meat, certainly a popular kind of food and dish here.
Meat was a big part of my diet growing up. When I came home from school in Malaysia and Singapore, mum always served a meat dish – think stir fried chicken with oyster sauce, steamed soya sauce fish – with a bowl of rice for my dinner. When we moved back to Melbourne, mum cooked the same variety of dinner.
When I got older and went out more, the more my palate tasted popular Australian meat dishes: bacon on toast for breakfast. Beef pie, sausage roll for lunch. Chicken parma, grilled barramundi and chips, steak for dinner. Consuming meat all round the clock. What do we get out of eating meat?
When we’re the birthday person, having people sing Happy Birthday to us is usually an awkward affair. No matter what language the song is sung to us in, we struggle to compose ourselves during the tune: do we stare at the cake with candles, then at the singing well-wishers, and then stare at the cake again?
It’s my birthday next week and I’m quite certain I won’t have to deal with Happy Birthday being sung to me. I’m not big on celebrating birthdays and have never thrown myself a birthday party; this year is no exception. Each time my friends suggest they throw me a birthday bash, I insist I won’t turn up to it. However, in the past I’ve had to put up with a few surprise birthday parties and of course, that song.
When Happy Birthday is sung to us, we can be respectful, polite and show our appreciation to the singers and so-called singers. After all, they’ve obviously took some trouble to show up and bring a cake with candles to us, be it store bought or homemade. The least we can do is sit and stare at the candles until the song is over.
When it comes to choosing a dish that represents Australia as a nation, us Australians have always been divided on this. There are so many foods we associate with our country. A few months ago, the Asian Cup 2015 tournament hosted by Australia chose the meat pie as Australia’s favourite food. But a few years ago, 8,000 Australians voted roast lamb as our national dish, with the meat pie coming in second.
As a kid, I never ate meat pie. In fact, the first time I had a meat pie was about five years ago. One afternoon while walking around a shopping centre, I was hungry and on a whim bought a snack-sized beef pie from Michel’s Pattiserie, a rather fancy, pricey bakery. The pie was piping hot and as my teeth sunk into the semi-crispy brown crust, and a savoury taste filled my mouth. Couldn’t decide if the meat tasted like beef. I chewed.