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TOPICS: 25-year-old restaurant; Chinese table manners; Tea; Pangi nut; Hong Kong Culture and Society-- A book review

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Newman's News and Notes

Summer Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(2) page(s): 27, 28, and 35


MANDARIN RESTAURANT; 348 E 900 N; BOUNTIFUL UT; phone: (801) 298-2406 must be congratulated. This wonderful eatery deserves that and your attention. Called one of the twenty-five best in the United States, and it has been serving fine Chinese food for an equal number of years. To The Mandarin, we send birthday greetings and congratulations twenty-five times over.

This eatery has won countless awards over the years. Many learn of its existence through the 'best' ratings it has garnered. It is owned by a Greek Pharmacist, Gregory Skedros and his wife Jeni. They and their five children all work hard sharing their passion for Chinese food. They employ fine chefs from Hong Kong and San Francisco and together, pay attention to every detail. Attention is visible on the exterior; check that out on their website. They also pay attention within where every appetizer and entree, every special dish, and every sauce is up to the task of being best. Every person who goes there gets attention, too. This is as fine as a restaurant gets outside of Chinatown, they all say.

So expect a few differences, but not in its main dishes. You will find these differences on the dessert menu. There, America's love affair with sweets shines through. Try the Bread Pudding with Bourbon Butter Sauce or Eli's Cheesecake. Or be Chinese and savor the Warm Apple-Banana Spring Rolls with Toasted Walnuts. It comes with banana ice cream to make its east-west marriage. And, if having a dessert you must, try one with Latte, Expresso, or Cappaccino.

We recommend concentrating on their fifteen appetizers, especially the four skewer Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce or the dozen Peking Chicken Wings. If that is not enough, go for the eight Zesty Orange Sesame Shrimp or the Chicken Soon Imperial. Save soup for last, Chinese style, or have it next savoring their Sea Weed Soup. Most devour the Three Flavor Sizzle Rice Soup, try that, too.

In the main course melange are more than ninety items. Forget those not Chinese such as the Tropical Thai Chicken, the Strawberry Chicken, and the Mediterranean Lamb (remember, the owners are Greek). Instead enjoy as they do, the Spicy Glazed Scallops, Pork with Garlic Sauce, Szechuan Catfish, Tangy Spicy Lamb, Velvet Chicken with Pinenuts and Gooseberries, or the Smoked Tea Duck. Better yet, try them all! Have yours with a choice of Oolong or Jasmine tea or their delicious Ginger Brew. They have herbal teas, if you want them.

A great Chinese restaurant in Utah may seem a surprise, but after you eat twenty-five of their fine food items, you will rank it among the best in America. Way-to-go all in the George Skedros family. You and your staff deserve at least another twenty-five. Your customers say that it is a pleasure to be pampered with fine Chinese food in your two-hundred-seat restaurant. The town of Bountiful and the restaurant are most bountiful!

CHINESE TABLE MANNERS have their origins in the Book of Rites, an ancient tome. That volume suggests as we do, "When entering a country, inquire of its customs." Chinese table etiquette belongs in Chinese restaurants and in Chinese homes. At both, eat mostly grains, some vegetables, and a mite of meat and fish. That is a Chinese well-mannered meal. It and breakfast or any meal without rice in Southern China is not a meal, so keep that in mind. There is one exception, a banquet, when rice is not part of the main meal but comes at the end. Do not eat a lot of it because if you do, that says the host did not order enough to fill you up; that or the host did not provide dishes you like. While the Chinese do not indulge in rice at a banquet, they do have a couple of bowls at other meals; or they have a few bowls of noodles; you should, too.

Take lightly of all dishes served family style. Take yours last or near the end to show respect and consideration, and do not take any of these foods with your own chopsticks. Serving utensils are the way to go, and if none are there then use the square or non-eating end of yours when serving yourself or others.

Hold your rice bowl in one hand. To put it down on the table shows disinterest or dissatisfaction with the tsai, also known as cai or vegetable, meat, or fish dishes. They are there to flavor your staple food. Never lick your chopsticks, do not bite them either because if you do, you are insulting the establishment. Shoveling rice into your mouth from your rice bowl is proper etiquette. Eating it grain by grain shows your inability to eat Chinese style, and an inability to enjoy a food near to the heart of the Chinese.

When not eating, keep both hands free. That way when someone fills your rice bowl or hands you tea, you can accept respectfully and with both hands. Should someone pour tea into your teacup, tap two middle fingers on the table, another sign of respect. That says thanks in action, words interrupt eating and tea drinking. When your host stops eating and does not encourage you to continue, put your chopsticks down and consider yourself finished. At other times, if you have finished your rice and did not get or ask for more, do not take any more tsai food. Chinese manners consider you done or a glutton, should you eat meat, fish, poultry, or vegetables without any rice or noodles (except at a banquet, of course).

When everyone is done eating, leave the table. Lingering there is another sign of one who knows not the rules of proper table behavior. Leaving food on your personal plate, or rice in your bowl is another goof. When I was young, I recall being told that were there rice left in my bowl at any meal, my future husband--whom ever that would be, would have a pock mark on his face for every grain I left over.

When you are thirsty at a Chinese meal, pour tea for someone else before serving yourself. If hungry, serve a special morsel to another before helping yourself. Always defer to the elders, the boss, or the host, and for heaven sakes, be sure to try to eat at the same pace that others do at your table. Doing differently is yet another sign of bad manners.

Chinese hosts adore my husband at formal meals. He never turns a whole fish over when flesh from the top half is consumed. Not sure if anyone told him or he was just very observant, but removing the bone is the correct behavior, turning the fish or roast is not. Everyone needs to practice good table manners when eating Chinese food. When in Rome, do as the Romans, so whatever the ethnicity, do learn and practice those table manners. That makes you a fine guest.

TEA CONSUMPTION is growing. People used to inquire about a specific tea product, nowadays they want suggestions about specific ones. Manufacturers and packaging companies occasionally send samples. Because of increased interest in this beverage, here are some reactions, thanks to our tea-tasters. We also get queries about the health aspects of tea. See the article in this issue titled: Green Tea: Health Perspectives for more about that topic.

The Grace Tea Company at 50 West 17th Street in New York NY 10011; their phone: (212) 255-2935 sent several teas you may want to know about. The Gun Powder Pearl Pinhead Green Tea comes as small rolled leaves. It brews nicely and makes a mild tea. Their Owner's Blend Premium Congou gives mixed results, not all taste-testers appreciate it as much as we do. Their China Yunnan Silvertip is loved by everyone. So is their Winey Keemun English Breakfast, it is robust and flavorful. Keemun from the Barnes & Watson Fine Teas Company at 270 S. Hanford Street #211 in Seattle WA 98134; their phone: (206) 625-9435 has broken leaves that brew into a rich and delicious tea. It is equally delicious.

Gunpowder Tea from Harney & Sons at 5979 North Elm Avenue in Millerton, New York 12546; phone: 1-800/teatime deserves special mention. It is bolder than other gunpowder teas and it is deemed a very fine brew. Their Ti Quan Yin, which their catalogue says is 'Spring Floral is a fine oolong. The best of the green teas they sent is Lung Ching. It is the only tea that is whole leaf, and it is the most favored tea from Barney & Sons.

These tea merchants are to be commended for wanting their teas evaluated by folks who really care. Do not be fooled into thinking that tea from a specialty tea company is expensive; it is not. Most cost in the neighborhood of ten dollars for half a pound. That much tea makes more than a hundred cups when brewed. A pound of coffee costs half that price or more but it only makes about forty cups of java. And, do not be fooled into thinking that all tea is fresh, or that all expensive teas are good. Visit a tea emporium or send for small samples, they cost but a few cents. Then take the time to taste before you buy more.

Now that you know that, treat yourself to good tea. Youwill get less caffeine when compared to a cup of coffee; and from our point of view, you will get a better beverage. There is no comparison between tea bag tea and teas made from larger or whole tea leaves. There are so many fine teas to choose from, do be good to yourself and learn to enjoy many of them.

PAN GI is a black nut used in Nonya cuisine and by many Chinese people who live or lived in Malaysia. It hails from Indonesia. Some people say it is meat-like, others disagree. This food item continues to generate queries as to its taste, origin, and availability.

It is one-plus inches long and botanically called Pangium edule and also known as Pangi, Pakem or Kepayang. It is popular in Singapore, but only in Nonya and Malaysian restaurants. Outside of this part of the world, it is not common in the Chinese culinary. As a seed, you need to know how to remove the hydrocyanic acids, they are poisonous. Many restauranteurs we spoke with described how they prepare them, others are totally unaware that their preliminary techniques are done for health reasons. In the culinary, pre-treated unripe nuts are used for preparing dishes such as Sayor Fodeh, a spicy side dish. Preparations for this dish remove those acids. When ripe, Pangium edule are fermented in their shells, after which they become chocolate-brown, slippery, and known as keluwak or kloowak. At that point, they have a distinctive and slightly bitter flavor. This nut or seed is used when preparing stews, soups, and various condiments. A fermentation process used with them produces dageh peechong, something similar to keluwak, but sweeter and more slippery in texture. Maybe that is why it is a good source of cooking oil. The leaves of this plant, which we have never seen, are used to wrap and preserve meat throughout Southeast Asia. We did ask about dishes wrapped with it, but no place where we asked used the leaves or had them in house to show us.

This nut tastes akin to bitter chocolate or winter truffles, some say. We find the color a very dark brown in the dried state, the only way we saw it. We found it only in one marketplace in Singapore, maybe that is why it is a true local delicacy. While there, we learn how to effectively enrich sauces and we have it in Ayam Buah Keluak. This chicken dish is particularly delicious at Blue Ginger, a famous Nonya restaurant, and its sauce is superb. To consume this nut in this dish, where it is used whole, requires a tiny spoon. The nut had its soft spot cut out so that patrons can scoop out the meat hidden inside the husk-like exterior. It is less than easy and quite a messy challenge; but worthwhile. Not everyone likes the taste. Some say it is similar to eating garden dirt. My reaction is that it is closer to burnt chocolate mixed with a blend of less cooked chocolate along with the tastes of tapenade and truffles.

The day we go shopping for this unusual flavoring item is during the celebration of Deepvaali. Little India in Singapore is one place to buy it, but only one small grocery that sells it is open. The elderly proprietor did not want us to purchase it. Perhaps, he is worried we would not know to remove its toxicity. Language is a barrier but he does sell us two of them for five Singapore dollars. A few days later, at the Nonya restaurant were we have the Keluak dish, it comes with three nuts in the sauce, and the menu says each additional one is an additional dollar.

HONG CULTURE and SOCIETY is a wonderful bibliographic paperback compiled by Sidney C.H. Cheung and Siumi Maria Tam. Published by the Department of Anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1999, its purpose is to facilitate research about the Crown Colony, and its references begin circa 1950. It does a marvelous job in every one of its ninety-six pages. The book also has an author index and other selected bibliographic material. The citations are in fifteen categories. Some of them are titled: Belief Systems, Ethnicity, Cultural Symbolism, Food and Health, etc. Many of the citations are books, journal articles, research reports, graduate dissertations, and government reports. All are worth perusing. We highly recommend this volume to you. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. Do not fret because Dr. Cheung advises that everyone can access it via an online data base. To do so, go to: www.cuhk.edu.hk/ant/publish/culture/

                                                                                                                                                       
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