I’ve been busy getting used to China after moving here that I haven’t had time to actually write anything. I’m trying to get back into the habit so I don’t forget what I did as I figured things out. So here goes.
It was the boss’s birthday recently so he treated everyone to a day off to celebrate. Most of the day was spent at the local park where we played a bunch of team building games my friends and I developed for our Green Camps in Armenia. It was fun but nothing out of the ordinary.
Dinner was a little different. We all went to a sit down Chinese chain restaurant. Think something like a TGI Fridays or Ruby Tuesday’s in China and you get the picture. Eating out in China is a bit different than eating out in America or Europe. The first difference was that the table was round. That’s nothing too out of the ordinary, but not very common. Another difference comes in how the food is served. Everyone orders from a menu like always, but when they bring the food out it doesn’t go to the person who ordered it. The food is for the table.
What ends up happening is the table is stacked with dozens of dishes. Each dish has about enough food for one person to eat completely and be pretty satisfied. But the dishes aren’t for anyone in particular, it’s community fare. It’s a little different, but no different than many family style restaurants where the food arrives and people serve themselves.
The big difference is how you eat the food. There’s no filling up of plates and settling in. You could do that, you do get an empty plate, but it’s not what you’re supposed to do. Instead of piling your plate high with food, you reach across with your chopsticks and grab a bite of whatever you think looks good. Every bite you take you’re reaching across the table trying to get something. When eight people are around a table and you have eight arms and eight pairs of chopsticks pecking at the food, it gets a bit fun and chaotic.
I think there are a couple of real advantages to this style of eating. First, it’s really social. There’s no way for you not to interact with the others around the table. It’s all too common in American restaurants to have a good conversation interrupted by the arrival of the food. All of the sudden everyone is more interested in what instead of who is in front of them. The social benefits get even more interesting. The way you address the food is so different. It’s ‘Try the chicken,’ not ‘Try my chicken.’ There seem to be fewer barriers when eating communal food instead of individual portions.
The other great benefit is less metaphysical and more immediate. It can help you lose weight. Overeating is common because many people eat too fast. What happens is they put food into themselves so quickly their stomach doesn’t have time to register it’s already full. When you have to make a small effort and spend a few extra seconds in between every single bite, the time spent actually eating during a meal drops. Your stomach has more time to process the food and by the time your stomach feels full you’ve probably eaten less than you would have at an American restaurant.
Eating this way isn’t just when you go out to eat. I’ve visited a Chinese friend’s home for dinner a few times and it’s exactly the same with less food. I think it’s the best way to eat a meal with others. Except for burgers and sandwiches. Those would get difficult to share.