Sunday, September 14, 2008

Moon Festival

The boyfriend and I were invited to the Moon Festival at a Chinese restaurant. This involves showing up at the restaurant at 10 PM as all the regular customers are clearing out. Tables are pushed together to form banquet tables. Huge platters of food are brought out along with several cases of beer. We were the only Caucasians in attendance , which is a pretty good indicator that we wouldn't be receiving teriyaki steak on a stick.

My boyfriend is very friendly with the owners and provides them with free legal, business and editing services and he, in turn, is invited to eat their fabulous food. To be invited is a big honor. I have also attended their Chinese New Year meal which is a very festive meal with the owners doling out envelopes of money to their employees and much drinking of beer. It is their big Holiday akin to our Christmas. I was mortified one year that some invited Caucasian guests of the bartender kept yelling out "Shake and Bake" to indicate their pleasure with the food and company. I couldn't help feeling responsible for their bad behavior because we shared a skin color.

But back to the Moon Festival..... I think it might be a Harvest Festival because it is the right time of year and the theme seems to be lots of food and overeating. There was barely room enough for your dinner plate on the table because there were so many platters of food- soup, lobster, fish, frog, turtle, chicken, squab, shrimp, conch and more.

I consider this an opportunity to travel without ever leaving my country. I was invited to a distinctive celebration in a culture very different than my own. So I put my preconceptions aside and eat like a native. The Chinese, after cooking an animal, tend to just chop it up, bones and all. They eat it by popping a piece into their mouth, rolling it around to extract the meat, fat and skin and then delicately remove the bones from their mouth with chopsticks or their fingers.

There is no denying where this food came from. The fish looks exactly like a fish. It is propped up on the platter with its tail gracefully curved behind, its mouth open and eyes staring straight forward. The whole chicken is sliced up and the forward part of the head is tucked into the breast, mouth open and tongue curled up. The crab is all pieces and shells that you have to dig around in and suck clean to find tidbits of meat.

As strange as it is, it is undeniably delicious. The lobster is spicy. The crab is delicate and moist. I suck on the legs and think it is the most crabby tasting dish I have ever had. The conch is very chewy with a delicate flavor. One of my favorite dishes is what they call sticky rice. Rice is processed, extruded and sliced into thick, chewy medallions which are stir fried with mushrooms. I think I had thirds on that!

The young woman sitting next to me, who is a waitress asked me if I liked the food. I answered affirmatively. She said many people consider it strange that the Chinese leave the bones in..... so they are aware of what people think of their food. But I know as a cook that much of the flavor of meat comes from the bone and the skin. And I can't help remembering that Julia Child herself said that the three great cuisines of the world are French, Italian and Chinese.

The Chinese are not big on sweets but the Moon Festival always ends with Moon Cake. It is a small sweet cake that is filled with egg yolks. When it is cut the yolks look like Full Moons. I cannot eat it as I am sure that it has flour in it which I shouldn't eat (and God knows how much I ate in the other unnamed dishes). But I brought a piece home so that I could photograph it- as shown above.

1 comment:

LYC said...

You lucky lady you! I haven't been to the Chen in a long time...must put that on the to-do list.