An Expat Story by Tracy | My Chinese friend explained: “Slurping noodles and porridge, peeling shrimp with our tongues and sucking on chicken feet is a process that’s not done quietly. If we use tools, we will lose the flavored juices that the foods were cooked in. And we don’t use our fingers to peel the shrimp
Eating with Gusto!
An Expat Story
By Tracy Lesh
Chi de xiang!
One of the first things westerners notice upon arrival in China is the local eating habits. People slumped over their bowls slurping or inhaling their food, chewed with mouths agape while spitting unwanted parts directly onto their plates. I initially assumed these were small-town folks From the countryside whose manners hadn't yet caught up. However, while having lunch with some local female corporate executives, I observed the same table manners. One lady who could talk and spew chicken bones out the side of her mouth at the same time Impressed me. Her silk blouse never saw a drop of oil. Then I realized that these habits weren't simply about table manners.
The first time I ate dinner with my Chinese friend's family, his mom prepared some expensive dishes. She was surprised to see me struggling with removing the heads and legs from the tiny shrimp. Due to lack of skill, yet not wanting to offend, I In the meantime, there was quite a commotion as the family expertly removed the unwanted parts by teeth and tongue. To eat the crabs, I had to zigzag around the sharp claws and spikes just to suck the small quantity of As I feebly murmured "hao chi", my mind wandered back to America when I could crack open meaty Alaskan king crab legs with a metal tool. So much effort for such a tiny amount of meat... could I ever appreciate it?
My Chinese friend explained: "Slurping noodles and porridge, peeling shrimp with our tongues and sucking on chicken feet is a process that's not done quietly. If we use tools, we will lose the flavored juices that the foods were cooked in. And we don 't use our fingers to peel the shrimp. Only barbarians let their fingers get messy while eating!” She went on: “When we eat with sound, it means we are enjoying our food. There is a phrase in Mandarin, (Chi De Xiang) in which means to eat noisily and with gusto!"
From childhood, I was taught to eat quietly and with my mouth closed. Would I ever adapt to a style of eating that in my home country was considered crude and unmannered? I began to research etiquette guidelines for different countries and discovered that in Japan, Where slurping is considered rude, they make an exception for noodles. Why? Slurping enables your olfactory senses to kick in, which enhances the nuanced, savory aroma that the mouth alone doesn't detect. Plus, noodles taste better in hot broth, and Slurping cools the noodles so they don't burn you.
Convinced that eating at a noodle restaurant could be my transition to going local, I ordered a bowl and watched my fellow diner's technique. Here's what I learned:
1. put the spoon in left hand and chopsticks in right
2. hunch over the bowl so you don't dribble on yourself
3. use chopsticks to pick up a few noodles-too many will make it difficult to slurp
4. place the spoon with under the noodles to prevent the broth from splashing into the bowl
5. SLURP, but not so hard that broth makes you choke (this takes some practice!)
5. When the noodles are gone, drink the remaining broth from the bowl
For those who need visual imagery, you can find "How to Slurp" videos online.
After taking that first step, I wasn't afraid to elevate my eating to the next level. My husband was proud to see me experiment with sucking the meat off fish bones and removing shrimp skins
One thing seems certain, the Chinese will continue to slurp, chomp, and spit with robust fervor as they savor their delicious meals. So if you want to really enjoy your food, skip your fussy western manners and chi de xiang!
About the Author:
Tracy Lesh is an American who moved to China ten years ago. Along the way, she met and married a Chinese national who spoke zero English. She enjoys sharing her colorful cross-cultural experiences with the expat community.