Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Yum! Cha

Yum Cha, as the name suggests, involves the drinking of tea with a meal accompanied by morsels of dumplings, pastries and the like. I have come to realise that in contrast to other cultures, Chinese families in general (and I say this to avoid offending the innocent) are impatient when it comes to food. We want it fresh, we want it piping hot and we want it now. I honestly believe that eating habits of the Chinese family were the inspiration behind the title of the highly successful "Fast and Furious" movies.
But why? After much careful thought and research (mostly through observation of my own family), I have boiled it down to this:
(1) Chinese people are pragmatists. We are in love with the synopsis, the bottom line, the gist of it all. Forget emotion, fuzzy feelings and little puppy dogs... why bother with detail when all it does is take up precious time for other (often money making or spending) activities? Hence, the restaurant meal is just that - a meal to sample the food prepared by a chef, not for conversation... and definitely not for waiting for food to arrive.

(2) We lead boring lives - due to reason (1), it is more likely than not that Chinese families do not undertake common interests in the arts, music or the finer things in life. And since these are topics that often facilitate lengthy discussions, we find that meal conversations are often short and sharp (just the way we like it)... and why hasn't the food arrived anyway?

3) We heart industrialisation (a little too much) - Being firm believers in the principles of mass production and economies of scale, we expect things to be completed in the shortest required time. Efficiency is respected... and anything less is... well, inefficient. This is why despite China having such a long culinary history, it was the Italians, not us, that initiated the slow food movement. Go figure.

But back to yum cha. Whilst not widely documented, my theory is that this form of dining was invented by the fast and furious Chinese to feed their passion for having things instantly. Dim sum is traditionally pre-prepared, steamed/deep friend/braised, and then transported around the restaurant floor on trolleys to hungry and eager patrons. The Chinese have made this such an efficient process that the ordering part of the restaurant experience is cut out completely and all that is required is to see what we want, grab it, and pay for it later (how's that for fast food).

But more and more, the concept of slow dim sum such is becoming a more popular alternative. As compared to pre-prepared and cooked items, the selection is made to order and served course by course. Despite my roots, I must admit I much prefer this form of dining. You get to take a breather, savour each dish and reflect. And hence, a Sunday lunch at Hua Ting located in Orchard Hotel was as close to a family zen gathering as I could get.

This highly awarded Chinese restaurant is renowned for its delicate dim sum, and other Cantonese favourites. We had, amongst other dishes, mango chicken tarts, scallop and abalone crystal dumplings, a Cantonese mixed roast platter, and of course, their famous shark cartilage soup with fish noodles. Each dish was excellent (with the exception of the chicken tarts which I found a tad too sweet) and I particularly enjoyed the soup noodles which was composed of a milky, gelatinous soup served with handmade fish paste noodles, cod fish and bittergourd - Great comfort food.
So next time you're having yum cha, do exactly that... enjoy the tea, savour the food, and most importantly, appreciate the company... no matter how long you have to wait.


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