The taste of Chinese hospitality

5 May

I will go out of my way to try new international restaurants in town. If I discover a new food or drink and no restaurant serves it, I will attempt to make it at home. But recently I had the opportunity to eat both international and homemade food that I did not prepare!

My family “adopted” two Chinese graduate students from Vanderbilt. Originally this was so the girls, freshly off the plane from China, could have someone along side them as they adjusted to American life. But it wasn’t long before both of them were excelling in both college and the good ol’ U.S.A.

When we get together, we have the most honest and interesting conversations about American and Chinese culture, politics and everything in between.

One of the girl’s mothers came to visit, and we were invited to experience some homemade Chinese cookin’. Five members of my family went to dinner, but there was seriously enough food for 20. Our hosts were so precious and scolded me when I got too full to continue eating.

All the food was an aspect of Chinese tradition – Chinese hosts go out of their way to make sure their guests are full, happy and entertained. I live in the South, but the South ain’t got nothin’ on Chinese hospitality!

The table of Awesome

A significant part of the meal was the Hot Pot, a pot of boiling sauce in which you dip raw meat, noodles or vegetables for ultra fresh eating. I loved it because, although everyone was supposed to keep track of their own food in the pot, every time I ladled out my food it was a mystery what would come out with it!

Beef and octopus ready for the Hot Pot

I also enjoyed trying some new foods. This was my first “big” octopus. I’ve eaten what I guess were baby octopi in Budapest. I can’t say it’s my favorite meat ever…it takes about two minutes to chew a bite enough to swallow, and the suckers sort of pop while you chew.

(in Budapest) Do I have to eat him?

Chinese noodles, which look like clear worms but taste amazing when cooked in the hot pot, were new to me as well. We also got to eat Chinese cabbage (bok choy) and tofu sheets.

We communicated with the girl’s mother, who spoke only Chinese, through translation all night, yet the conversation was anything but awkward. Everyone was fast friends before the night ended. My family and I felt so honored by these wonderful Chinese women, and I enjoyed learning from them about Chinese hospitality and tradition.

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