Friday, April 14, 2006

The Chinese banquet

I've come across quite a few ppl (in person and through reading blogs) who don't want to do any kind of an Asian banquet or food (with the exception of sushi). I, however, loooooove the Chinese banquet. I've left Western-style receptions hungry and I often am amazed that this could be the case even though they are usually more expensive than the Chinese banquet. And their choice of food is usually just 3 types: chicken, fish, or beef. I hardly ever order chicken or fish b/c I think it's very hard to prepare (meaning it's often overcooked), especially when it's not cooked on-site. I much prefer the Chinese banquet, not just b/c I like the variety (and often quality) of the food, but also b/c each element has a meaning.

To begin with, there are usually nine courses (nine connotes 'everlasting' in Chinese) in a banquet. Another reason for so much food is to symbolize abundance and also the family's wealth. Also, all the food is served whole (including the chicken's feet and head; the fish with its eyes, fin and tail; the lobster with its head and tail) because serving only certain pieces is considered 'broken.' According to Rosemary Gong in Good Luck Life,
The wedding banquet menu is carefully selected for a culinary balance. To accomplish this feat, various cooking methods are adopted to achieve an array of flavors to awaken the palate. Cold balances hot, salt neutralizes sweet, boiled offsets fried, steaming equalizes braising. The presentation and color of the food is also important so that the combination of courses harmonizes with the eye as well as the tummy.
To illustrate, here is a sample menu of what I remember the banquet hall offered for their basic meal (plus my editorial comments, as always :P [pictures don't do this food justice, but these are from a banquet in a London Chinese restaurant, courtesy of]):

  • Cold appetizer platter: roast suckling pig with crispy skin (yum!!; this symbolizes virginity), pickled jellyfish (I love the crunchiness and surprising lightness of this), ham and other cold cuts (some places have the thinly sliced 5-spice beef that's popular in Shanghai-nese cooking)

  • Walnut shrimp: huge fried shrimp (prawns?) coated lightly with a sweet mayo sauce, plus tossed candied walnuts; since some of the ILs have issues with the heavy sauce, I am leaning towards the salt and pepper variety, if it's offered
  • Shark's fin (for prosperity) or bird's nest soup (symbolizing youthfulness and long life): both are Chinese delicacies and take hours of preparation so it is usually* very flavorful and good!

  • Stir-fried lobster: symbolizes the dragon, the essence of the husband; sometimes these are served in pairs (pairs are a good thing to Chinese ppl)

  • Braised abalone, sea cucumber, and vegetable: long leafy greens, though difficult to manuever with chopsticks, are often served whole to wish long life
  • Crispy, whole fried chicken: symbolizes the female part of the marriage equation, the phoenix (Chinese mythological bird); often served with colorful shrimp chips
  • Whole steamed fish (symbolizing abundance): the fish is never flipped (deriving from old fisherman's superstition of flipping the fish like flipping a boat) but the waiter will usually de-bone it for each table when it arrives
  • Fried rice and noodles, often served as a pair (I think the noodles symbolize long life)
  • Red bean soup (red for good luck and long ago my Chinese teacher told me there was a meaning to red beans, like friendship or something, but I forgot): this sweet dessert soup sometimes has lotus seeds added to it to 'wish the blessing of successive sons'; if I had my druthers, I'd rather have the coconut milk tapioca soup with taro, which I like a lot better b/c I'm not a fan of beans
  • Wedding cake (often served with the sweet soup) and I don't remember if fresh fruit is also served, or if that is just something that happens after regular Chinese dinners
Somewhere I kinda remember there being a T-bone steak which I don't like the Chinese preparation of so it probably won't be on our menu. With all this food, served family style, there is usually a lazy susan in the middle of the table (and hence, no room for centerpieces). There are also the requisite pots of tea and bottles of soda in the middle (7-Up is usually there b/c the translation of it means 'happiness' or something -- another thing I forgot from my Chinese teacher). *Some restaurants, of course, have better cooking than others. I'm pretty happy with the place we picked -- the last time we were there, there were quite a few non-Asians there b/c I think it's listed in Zagat's. Plus b/c FFIL knows the ppl there, they won't serve sub-par food in order to 'save face.' Yum and yay! All this talk of food is making me hungry!


catwomannyc said...

Hi there,

7-Up means 7 happiness.

My friend canceled her SaSa appointment because of a pimple. I will warn her about your experience. I would like to try facial there myself :-)

Anonymous said...

Where are you having your banquet at?

myBFCW said...

Cool, thanks catwomannyc!

myBFCW said...

Hi anonymous,
Our banquet will be in Ctown, close to Canal St. I can email you the specifics, if you're interested. Are you planning on having a Chinese banquet?

Keyosuke said...

I'm thinking of having a chinese wedding and I was wondering where you are ahving/had yours. I'd love to know, as I am considering Ctown as a place.

myBFCW said...

Please email me at rm47of450_at_yahoo for specifics...