Chinese vs American family meals

Whenever an American holiday approaches there is a lot of work in my family’s kitchen. Things like desserts are started the day before and then a few family members spend all day in the kitchen while everyone else watches tv. The food is always great, but especially for holidays, we all sit in the formal dining room with big chairs and a long table. Everyone seems so far away. Then after hours of cooking and preparing, everyone finishes eating in about a half an hour and gets up from the table. It seems like once everyone has eaten their plateful, there is no reason to stick around. Hours of work for 30 minutes of eating.

For Chinese holidays with my husband’s family in Shandong, there is still a lot of prep work. Dumplings, for instance are a day-long endeavor, but take very little time to actually cook. Stir-frying doesn’t take very long either, especially with everyone helping with chopping and peeling. Then everyone, it seems like almost 20 people, sits at a tiny table that one would think fits 4. With toasting of tea, beer, and baijiu, the meals last for hours. When the food looks like it is about to run out, more is made or found. I recall a couple of 11am lunches that didn’t finish until after 6pm.

Now in America, husband and I invite people over for Chinese meals all the time. We’ll have 10 or more people over and fit everyone around a table that by American standards should only seat 6. Sometimes, we’ll just stir-fry up a few dishes and serve some fresh pickled veggies, or, even easier, make hot-pot. It takes less than an hour to make everything and everyone is cozy. Without having defined portions on a dinner plate, the Chinese style meal allows everyone to graze for hours. Conversation seems to flow better and everyone is more literally sharing the meal.

Every family is different, mine seems to get restless once they are full. The only way to get them to stay at the table longer is to eat Chinese-style. Surprisingly, no one has complained about being cramped or about reaching for food.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Chinese vs American family meals

  1. What about snacks before the meal? I remembered as a kid that we would have snacks all day long before dinner at family gatherings around Chinese new year’s. Perhaps you can incorporate that as well for your next family gathering. Just a suggestion. =]

  2. Interesting the difference between an American and Chinsese family meal, and you have put it very well. I think the Chinese style meal encourages closeness between family members, especially when you have to sit close and you have to “part-take” of the meal, so to speak. That is why apart from the manner the food is served in a Chinese family meal which encourages staying around longer, Chinese people also prefer round tables instead of ablong meal tables.

  3. Alexandra vV

    I have been thinking about this post for the past few days and I really love your insights! Maybe the American/Canadian style of eating slow would be called a pot luck right? We just had one and it meant little preparation for me the host, every one brings a dish and we stood around the counter and table eating and drinking for four – six hours, the party lasted 8 hours that night! Where in Shandong do/did you like?

  4. My wife loves to cook, and early in our marriage she learned how to cook and throughly enjoys many American foods. She especially likes American holiday food. On Thanksgiving and Christmas we usually have a traditional meal usuing a duck or chicken and spices bought on line. I make traditional dressing, mashed potatoes and candied yams. She found an online recipe for making green bean casserole from scratch. We usually invite some family, friends or students to these celebrations because they want to see how Americans celebrate. Another American food she has learned to make is pizza. Her pizzas have become so popular with her family and friends that they now expect her to make a couple everytime we host any holiday dinner, Chinese or American.

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