How To Eat Chinese Food Without Looking Like An Asshole
It’s a lot easier than you think!
In an age where Asian food has begun to graduate from cheap to trendy, Chinese food in the United States has finally expanded beyond General Tso’s and greasy ass lo-mein. Now, you can find soup dumplings, hot pot, egg tarts, radish cakes, and more — all without leaving the island of Manhattan. Some of New York’s finest restaurants are now Chinese or East Asian fusion, introducing authentic flavors and dishes to the American palate. Of course, the increased access to Chinese food results in two major consequences: overpriced and gentrified fusion and people causing massive cultural controversy in public.
Take for example, the $12.75 XL Soup Dumpling, available at Drunken Dumpling on E 9th and 1st Avenue. This massive dumpling takes an unexpected twist on a well-loved classic, transforming the bite-sized soup dumpling (tangbao) into a colossal fusion between the Henan province and Jiangnan province soup dumplings. The Henan tangbao is typically larger, and is much less popular due to its lack of structural integrity — as a result of too much soup, and too little skin. The Jiangnan province soup dumpling eliminated the issues of the Henan dumpling, by using a straw to puncture the dumpling skin and drink the soup, without having to try to pick a soft dumpling until the soup is done. Therefore, the XL Soup Dumpling is a face-sized steaming hot dumpling filled with boiling soup, that you have to attempt to consume with a straw, a plastic soup spoon, and some throwaway bamboo chopsticks. This is no easy task, especially if you aren’t experienced in eating soup dumplings to begin with. On many occasions, I’ve been slurping away at my dumplings and I’ll hear muffled crying in the background. Some unfortunate infrequent consumer of tangbao, would attempt to eat the bite-sized pocket of soupy joy in a single bite. Obviously, a terrible fucking idea.
This XL dumpling was featured in Forbes, Thrillist, Grubstreet, Gothamist (RIP), and beyond — and as it gained popularity, it claimed more and more mouth-burn victims. To share a culinary gem with those untrained (or perhaps, unworthy) of eating it, is a dangerous game. To avoid second degree tongue burns and looking like an asshole because you couldn’t understand the concept of a soup dumpling, you can place smaller soup dumplings into the wide-mouth spoon that most restaurants will provide. Puncture the bottom or side of the dumpling with your chopstick, and let the soup trickle out of the dumpling and onto the spoon. Admire the beautiful filling, let it cool, dip it into some vinegar and some ginger, and enjoy. It’s that simple!
Stepping away from soup dumplings for a hot second, please realize that Chinese cuisine is centuries old and serves as one of the pillars of Chinese culture. With this in mind, there are a huge number of cultural practices and beliefs that are associated with gastronomy. Especially when it comes to chopstick use. Please, for the love of god, stop stabbing your chopsticks vertically into rice (and noodles too). It emulates incense at funerals and has massive negative symbolic value. Don’t use your chopsticks as drumsticks, to tap anything and everything on the table. Even though it was once used to beg for money on the street, it is also loud and inconsiderate as all hell in a restaurant setting. Don’t pass food from one pair of chopsticks directly to another, don’t stab foods that you can’t pick up, and don’t dissect food on your plate with your chopsticks. Instead, you can put food onto someone’s plate for them, move your bowl to the larger dish and slide food into your bowl, and just fucking eat whatever you put on your plate. I promise you, it’ll be delicious.
If there are things you are curious about, whether it be ingredients, eating methods, or even history — don’t assume that the restaurant staff is always there to educate you. Google is a thing! Or, meet some Chinese people that would be willing to teach you. That being said, you don’t have to be embarrassed about not knowing something. Just be respectful if somebody corrects you, and try your best to adhere to and appreciate cultural practices. However, if you’re a shitty “China-foodie”claiming you know Chinese cuisine when you actually don’t — you deserve all the soup splashes, tofu breakage, soggy dumpling skins, and tiny fish bones in the world.