Just before we left last summer we hosted a dinner party for the VLS China Program’s visiting faculty and students (visiting from China). As I was finishing up my dissertation and too busy to cook, we had the event catered. At the time, we felt that it went pretty well.
Once we had been in China for a while and knew more about Chinese food and entertaining habits, we found that we were embarrassed by the event. We didn’t seat the guests. We had a lot of beer and wine on hand but no tea (and only water and a little cider for non-alcoholic drinks). We offered only a few different dishes (a green salad, a veggie dish, a chicken dish and a chocolate cake with berries on it) and no fruit and made rice a staple starch in the meal (decidedly low-brow). I am sure we did other things wrong but these are the things I think about when I feel embarrassed about the fact that the meal was probably subpar by Chinese standards.
This Friday we are hosting another dinner for Chinese visitors to the program and we are going to try to do a better job being culturally sensitive enough to make folks comfortable while simultaneously making it feel like an American event. So, we are going to seat everyone for the meal since this is very important in China. We are going to go heavy on the tea and non-alcoholic beverages as drinking in mixed company is not very common. We are going to serve the food piping hot (even though this means we will be cooking early on) and buffet style. We are going to offer a large variety of dishes that should be palatable, comfortable, expected and also indicate the high regard in which we hold the guests.
Here’s the menu
1. Grilled (not common where we were in the PRC) local sausage, chicken breast and steak cut it into chopstick friendly pieces. Serving meat indicates the fact that we honor our guests. Folks expect beef in the US.
2. Home-baked annadama, challah and oatmeal breads served with butter and pesto aioli- completely not Chinese and a huge success at past events
3. Grilled zucchini and summer squash (summer in US)
4. Small green salad (US)
5. Fresh fava beans and garlic scape sautee (summer in US)
6. Spaghetti marinara (Chinese favorite at “Western” restaurants)
7. leek and egg dumplings (Chinese – if I can swing it otherwise just the filling)
8. Spinach-sesame (oshi tashi) and carrot cucumber maki (sushi). Sushi is popular in China, too
9. Steamed broccoli tossed with garlic (China).
10. Roasted ground vegetables (beets, potatoes, turnips – US ingredients and US preparation)
11. Douchi (fermented soy bean) sauteed rainbow chard (Chinese preparation, US vegetable)
12. Potato kale soup (US but we included a soup because it is important element of Chinese meal)
13. Watermelon & raspberries from the yard (formal Chinese meals always conclude with a fruit plate)
14 Zucchini cake (US)
15. Choc chip and sugar cookie plate (US)
16. Tortilla Chips and salsa (US appetizer)
17. Cold cucumbers in chili oil (Chinese appetizer)
Needless to say, this is going to be quite the meal to prepare!