I’m half White half Chinese Filipino, so some of my foods and food practices might be considered “ethnic”. But it doesn’t really feel like I’m doing anything strange. Instead, what it feels like is, gee, White people sure are strange. In particular, my fiancé has funny eating practices. It’s a constant source of in-jokes among us.
In the US, portion sizes at restaurants tend to be very big, and they get bigger at more expensive restaurants, up to a point. But for the most expensive restaurants, the trend reverses, and suddenly you’re getting a small piece of sea bass with a single piece of cauliflower and two mushrooms. These are the kinds of restaurants that my fiancé goes to with his family. They’re foodies. Eating with them is quite the experience. They spend the whole time talking about the food, selecting their favorite and least favorite among the dishes, expressing satisfaction or regret with their choices, comparing to the food they had at some other restaurant years ago. For a while, they were concerned that I didn’t like the food because I didn’t continuously lavish praise upon it. Yeah, I mean, I like the food but I’m not sure I’m capable of liking anything to such a degree.
One common pattern of praise went something like “these mushrooms perfectly complement the sea bass”. And it doesn’t sound like much, but the more I thought about it, the more it blew my mind. Because it seems to me, it doesn’t particularly matter what entree is paired with what garnish. It’s just the sum of its parts. But for my fiancé’s family, there’s some magical value not just in the food itself, but in the pairings of different foods. And I think it speaks to a totally different mindset, a different way of experiencing food. I suppose this is why each dish is composed of only a few parts, meticulously selected, and then exhaustively listed on the menu even when it’s just a sprig of parsley.
And I’m always thinking, where’s the rice? Rice plus anything–there you go, apparently I believe in magical food pairings too.