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Friday, December 01, 2006

Food, Family, and Etiquette

My cousin had a conference near my house and came to spend the night Wednesday. Though she had just gotten off work and was starving when she called, she saved her belly to have dinner with me (Chili's three half-racks of babyback ribs). And on Thursday after her conference was over, she came back to my house and we had dinner again (Top Thai Restaurant in San Dimas for green curry and pad kee mao) before she went home. My family bonds through food. Sure we do other things together, but our primary mode of bonding is centered around food. My cousins who shared one bowl of ramen and a ground chicken bowl between the two of them? They had already eaten at home before inviting me out to eat again. When I'm visiting my parents, I catch up with friends during the day or late at night but I always come home for dinner with mom and dad. Thus, dinner equates to family time. It was at the dinner table that my mom drummed in certain manners.
  1. Contrary to the title of my blog, I would never let my chopsticks "wander" at the dinner table. Even appearing to choose the choicest morsel for yourself is rude.
  2. Eat whatever is served. If you're hungry, eat. But never ask what's for dinner and determine whether or not you're eating based on what's being served.
  3. Always serve adults with two hands. Let the oldest person eat first.
  4. Never arrive at a dinner party empty-handed.
  5. Meals are always shared family-style.
These manners stick with me into adulthood. And actually, my closest friends and I share similar feelings about food. We eat off each other's plates. We order food we know the other person will like so everything can be shared. My pet peeves are going to eat in a group and one lone person insists on ordering something that can't be shared. This is aimed at picky eaters and not those with religious or health restrictions. Or the guy I went out with only once because he didn't like to eat anything. Or people who throw dinner parties and dictate what guests will bring or eat. I have horrible memories of a dinner party in Paris where the hostess literally scraped the crusty cheese on the sides of a lasagna pan to serve me. And then when a pan of fresh lasagna came out, she stood by the table asking people not to take any if they've had a helping already. My "scrapings" were considered a first helping so I didn't bother going for "seconds." As it was, the guests felt too chastised to eat anything else. Food can reveal a person's generousity or lack of. Food can be a central point for family and friends to bond. Food can make or break relationships. Yes, I am that serious about food. I'm not a food snob by any means. But I can't date someone who doesn't like to eat, I can't befriend someone who doesn't share, and I don't like going to dinner parties where I'm told what to bring and what to eat. When I hostess I make plenty of food for everyone. If guests bring something, that's extra, but I don't plan on guests to supplement a meager offering. And if I run out of something, I run out. There's always plenty of other foods available. Below is a photo of a typical lunch with my family in Vietnam last summer. No matter what we did or where we went, we always came home to share lunch together. A few greens, a few meats. Good, basic food is a wonderful opportunity for families to gather. It shouldn't be used to be divisive. What are some of your food pet peeves?


  1. You've already listed off a number of my pet food peeves. There are only two I can think to add.

    The first is people who insist on having a meal together, then order very little or nothing at all, but urge you to have whatever you want. It makes me feel guilty eating a regular meal. I invariably order a smaller item to match their's, then go home hungry. I understand if they just enjoy the bonding aspect of sharing a meal, but I would have preferred to have been invited out for coffee or tea if all they wanted to do was chat. Than I at least would have known what to expect.

    The second is picky eaters who insist on limiting restaurant options during group dining based on their food prejudices. For example, I have a friend whose girlfriend can't stand seafood or Chinese food. So when Cat and I dine with them, not only are sushi, Chinese, and seafood restaurants unacceptable, but any restaurant that has seafood on the menu is unacceptable. She claims the smell of it makes her gag.

    Annoying. Very annoying.

    - Chubbypanda

  2. Ooh, good ones. Those bother me too. I have friends who are vegetarian or who don't like seafood. If it's a big group, they'll just eat what they can or like. Or if it's just us, we order separate items. It's people who make a big production out of their pickiness that drives me nuts.

  3. Thanks for the visit and a nice surprise to see beautiful photos from tasty food on your blog.

  4. i'm visiting via kimchi mommas . . .
    i, too, love food. i just sent my best friend home with a bag full of food! to me there's nothing like good food and great company!

    food peeve: when you get something and your dinner companions order very little food and then eat yours! what's up with that?! i'm all about the sharing, but c'mon!

    angie in texas

  5. Interesting post about your food peeves. My extended family has developed a lot of food eccentricities over the years, or maybe I have just started noticing them, and they can get annoying. Some of them do not like to be seen eating, so one won't go to a restaurant, and is very uncomfortable at even the fast food places, and another served us a meal and sat to talk to us but didn't eat a single thing. Then some are now on special diets - one is on low fat, another on low carb, etc., and will criticize the choice of foods being offered even though you offer a variety to pick from. (Because I shouldn't even think of eating red meat!) Some won't eat certain foods, and even if you make everything with ingredients they like, don't like certain combinations!
    Sigh! I make something awesome and think it is delicious, and then when around those relatives, I feel like the worst cook to ever walk on the planet! Of course if I don't cook, that gets criticized too!
    Funny, when I started writing this comment I couldn't think of anything, and now I've got a huge list!

  6. Hi Everyone,

    Man, this post seems to strike a chord with a lot of people. We take our food seriously! :)


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