Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cultural Conundrum #5: Communal Scrap Bowls -- or Tables

Continuing with the food theme, I want to highlight another food-related observation. At many cheap restaurants and at every cafeteria I’ve been to you will find a lovely centerpiece on every table.

This is what I like to call the communal scrap bowl. In China, fish and meat are almost always cooked with the bones. You can imagine how difficult it is eating an entire fish without swallowing any bones — that’s why I rarely eat fish (though the locals are really good at it).

Aside from swallowing bones, there arises yet another problem with eating bone-enriched food:  Where do you put the bones while you’re eating?

Have no fear! The communal scrap bowl is here!

As gross as it seems — and it is pretty gross — it is actually quite convenient. You don’t have to maneuver around bones on your plate. Just toss them in and keep eating. And while you’re at it, you can toss in anything else you don’t want — peppers, napkins, chicken feet and the like.

Every once in a while a lady will come by and empty out the bowl at your table. But most of the time when I sit down, the bowl is filled with some type of goodness.

But what do you do when there is no scrap bowl? Or what if you just don’t feel like using the scrap bowl? Simple — put the bones on the table!

Generally it seems that about 2/3 of the people use the bowl and 1/3 use the table. The same lady that empties the bowls also clears the tables of any bones or other scraps.

When there are many open seats you can just avoid the ones occupied by scraps. But when it’s packed, you just have to set your plate on top of the scraps so that you aren’t looking at them when you eat. Here’s a sneak peak at what was under my plate during a busy day:

To Americans this probably seems a bit disgusting. But to Chinese people it’s a normal part of eating. And that’s how cultures function, right? One culture sees their practices as practical and convenient while another culture views them as strange or repulsive.

It is interesting, though, that Americans generally wouldn’t have a problem looking at bones on a person’s plate sitting in front of them. But as soon as you put them in a bowl in the middle of the table we freak out. Granted, putting them ON the table might be a little different. But a table is just a really big plate if you think about it.

Just saying…

No comments:

Post a Comment