04 March 2012


Tonight I experienced my first Asian business dinner. On the train ride across the island, a scene from my favorite show, Gilmore Girls, entered my mind. The Korean Kim family hosted a New Year’s dinner and, when one of the Western guests made a motion to leave the table to relieve himself, he was sternly informed that he was not allowed to leave the table during dinner. Only when everyone was excused by the host would he be allowed to use the toilet (bathrooms/restrooms are simply known as “toilet” here).

I told Paul that I needed to quickly study up on my Asian dinner etiquette because I was not sure that we would be able to use the restroom at any point during dinner. I read one article on traditional Asian dinners in the host’s home and, while I found some of the tips interesting, I realized that many were not applicable for this evening’s dinner.

The second article was written by a Chinese man and focused more on modern restaurant dining – perfect. I learned that like in American dinner etiquette, one should not eat until all have been served; in Asian dining, one does not eat until either the host or an elder takes the first bite.

Plates are passed counter-clockwise and chopsticks should be used unless instructed otherwise.

When presented with food, one has the responsibility to eat everything on the plate or in the bowl that can be consumed. Refusing to eat something either because one does not like the item or because one does not eat certain types of foods is not considered appropriate. Here in lies the challenge. We are both quite aware of what we like and what we do not.

Paul is not a fan of unfamiliar foods so the idea of dining at an all-Asian restaurant where set menus are prevalent did not exactly psych him up for the event. I tried to convince him that the food would be great and reminded him that the restaurant serves dim sum so there had to be something he liked in the mix. 

Our first course  was presented on a few platters. Though my mind did not immediately recognize the baby pig laid out before us, I was advised that this suckling pig with the crispy skin was a delicacy. The skin was perfectly crisped and the meat was so tender. The kompyang that accompanied the pig was also quite tasty - the small round discs reminded me of flat bao.

My etiquette article specifically stated that mobile phones were to be on vibrate and tucked away throughout the dinner; photos taken of the food presented were, in some occasions, seen as acceptable. However, if one had the inkling to take a photo of someone else’s food, one must first get that person’s permission. Not wanting to look like a crazy American tourist or seen as anything other than professional and classy, I refrained from taking any photos. Sorry.

We enjoyed eight more courses that included shark fin soup, Boston lobster, grouper (Paul’s favorite fish), scallops with prawns and crab, abalone and mee po before finishing with a chilled mango puree and Chinese cakes.

The food was delightful but by the time we were served our fourth course, my belly was feeling the pressure. Not wanting to disappoint anyone or seem ungrateful, I continued to take a least one bite of everything I was served. To my dismay, even the wait staff commented on my unfinished plates.

When the mee pow was served, one waitress advised me that she gave me a “tiny portion” of the noodles and mushrooms so that I would be able to clean my bowl. But I did not. Not a fan of fungus by any means, I sucked up my foul distaste and ate three or four bites to at least show an effort.

When the abalone was presented, I really had no idea what was placed in front of me. I know that the Tran-Lams love the abalone and, since I had survived and quite liked the geoduck, I decided to cut off a sizeable piece and give the thing a try.

At that moment, I was not sure whether I should continue to chew, attempt to swallow the pieces as they were or nonchalantly spit them out into a napkin. I was about to gag at the texture and the flavor and I wondered what I was to do if I suddenly threw up at the table. I mean no disrespect to anyone who likes the abalone – I think that’s great – my body just could not handle it. Don’t worry, I feel the same way about broccoli.

As the last two courses were served together, the waitress kindly advised me that the mango puree was light and not filling, so I did have a bit more than I intended. The flavor was sweet and the cooling qualities ended the meal positively.

I may not have followed all of the Clean Plate Club rules that my parents tried to teach me from a very early age, but I did accept the nine-course dinner challenge and my belly did fit out the door at the conclusion of the evening…though I may be fasting tomorrow.


Katie said...

Abalone is yummy! I thought you had it with us at the Seafood restaurant. I am pretty sure it may have just been that preparation method. Good job for surviving the dinner! I don't think I would have made it all nine rounds.

kurnaen said...

hahaa nice post and nice try for you to having dared to try the new foods

Just FYI, there’s an event for bloggers and the prizes are iPad2 and Cash. Find the info here.