Malaysia is a country which consists of multiracial culture, ethnics, and races. Malaysia is made up of three main races: Malay, Chinese and Indian. Ethnic races consist of Iban, Dayak, Kadazan and many other minorities. Even the Chinese in Malaysia comes from different ethnic groups and speak different dialects. Similarly, the Indians in Malaysia come from different parts of India and they speak different languages and even have different culture. The fact that Malaysia consist of so many races and ethnic group makes it a gastronomical paradise. Different races and ethnic groups have their own way of serving food and their own eating culture. Tourists who come to Malaysia will experience a multiracial and multicultural country first hand. Furthermore, if you were to take a look into Malaysian history, Malaysia has been colonized by many western countries, such as the Portuguese, Dutch, Siam, Japanese and also British. They leave behind not only war traits but also various culture and buildings.
However, when it comes to formal dinners, usually traditional Malay food or western food are served. In some occasions where the government tends to promote unity in the country, fusion of food from the three races might be served at the same time.
If we were to attend Chinese wedding dinner, we realized that most of the time, the dishes that are served are almost the same. That is called the Chinese set menu. Each itinerary in the Chinese set menu has its own distinct meaning behind it. Each dish has a history behind it.
The first course of the Chinese set menu is often an even-numbered selection of cold dishes; eight or ten are traditionally served. After the cold course comes a showy soup such as shark’s fin soup or bird’s nest soup. The guests help themselves to the dishes at a banquet, but the soup is served by the host, and much drinking and toasting accompanies it. Following the soup comes a decorative meat dish, more courses follow – lobster, pork, scallops and chicken. Between the courses, a variety of sweets are brought out. Peking duck with scallion brushes, hoisin sauce, and thin pancakes are often served in the middle of the festivities. Traditionally, the final course is a whole fish, which is placed on the table with its head pointes towards the guest of honor. Throughout the meal, the guests pay elaborate compliments to the food. Enjoyment of the food offered is much more important than sparkling dinner table conversation. At a banquet, the food itself is the medium communicating the host’s good wishes and the hoy of the celebration.
Noodles are often served in a Chinese set menu during wedding dinners or birthday celebration dinners. Noodles occupy an important position in Chinese cuisine. Actually, the Chinese were the inventors of noodles, and they were brought to the European noodle country, Italy, by Marco Polo in the 13th century. The Chinese do have a seemingly very logical reason why the longer noodles are better. To the superstitious Chinese race, long noodles mean long life or longevity. Making noodles the traditional Chinese way is an acrobatic art. The dough is pulled and whirled through the air in order to stretch it through centrifugal force; but today other techniques or machines are being used.
In Chinese cuisine, noodles can be served in three ways: in a clear coup with meat and some vegetables, or mixed with meat and with a thickened sauce poured over or without sauce; whereas for noodles with sauce egg noodles (mien) are commonly used, it’s bijon noodles if served without sauce. Egg noodle dished with sauce appear on Chinese menus with English translation often specified as fried. This is grossly misleading as they are mostly just barely sauted. There is nothing crisp in such a “fried” dish, and the rather tasteless cornstarch sauce gives the dish a porridge texture.
Another important part in the Chinese set menu is soup. Often in Chinese wedding dinners, shark’s fin soup is being served as the second menu after the cold dish. Soups in Chinese set menu differ from western soups as Chinese soup uses cornstarch as a thickening agent unlike western soups where they use cream. The two famous Chinese soups, shark fin soup and the bird’s nest soup appear to be thickened but the glutinous texture does, in neither case, result from the addition of cornstarch but from the two main ingredients, shark fin and bird’s nests which are simmered for many hours.
Soups in Chinese set menu are dated back as long as the history of noodles does. Chinese in China use drink soup to warm themselves up during winter. Nowadays if we were to look in to common house cooking dishes, there must be at least a dish which is made of soups. Soups are considered to be one of the “seasonings” in Chinese cooking. Even noodles, are served in soups.
Fish is considered as a must in Chinese set menu or Chinese wedding banquet. Fish has symbolic significance in Chinese culture. In Chinese, the sound of fish is ‘yu’ which sounds like the word for riches or abundance. Hence, Chinese people believe that fish is a symbol of abundance and prosperity. Serving fish in a Chinese wedding banquet is to wish the people have an abundant and prosperous life in future. Fish can either be steamed or deep fried. However, fish in Chinese wedding banquet is normally steamed and served with a specially prepared sauce which consists of soy sauce and oil. As said earlier, according to Chinese believe, fish is normally served in Chinese banquet with the fish head heading towards the host.
Sea cucumber is another important ingredient in Chinese cooking. Sea cucumber is mostly found in Chinese New Year dishes as it is always cook with many other ingredients with special meanings behind it. Serving sea cucumber with other vegetable is a symbol of selflessness. This is because in Chinese, sea cucumber sounds like “good heart”. This course is to wish the newlyweds to think in a similar way and encourage them to avoid conflict by cultivating a ‘good heart’. Sea cucumber is also considered as one of the exotic seafood. As a highly graded sea cucumber may exceed the price of shark fins. In some expensive Chinese restaurants, a sea cucumber dish maybe as expensive as RM500.
Finally, after all the mouth-watering dishes, comes the dessert. In Chinese set menu banquet, various kinds of fine desserts are served to customers. Here, we should discuss about sweet red bean soup and sweet buns. In olden days, red bean soup is considered as food for poor people. Red beans are relatively cheap and it’s filling. However, nowadays seldom people like to cook and eat red bean soup. That’s why, red bean soup is considered as a ‘high-class’ dessert in Chinese set menu. In Chinese banquet menu, red bean soup and sweet buns are served to wish the newlyweds a sweet life. The sweet red bean soup contains lotus seeds and bark-like vegetables which signify togetherness.
While most Chinese wedding menus are prearranged for you, you can of course change the menu to suit your liking. If you have a good handful of specific crowd that wish for something different than generic offerings, do request for some alterations to suit your guests’ requirements.
Some might think that consumption of food is a vital part of the chemical process of life but to most Chinese, the consumption of food is far more than just vital. The only other activity we engage in that is of comparable importance to our lives and to the life of our species is sex. As Kao Tzu, a Warring States-period philosopher and keen observer of human nature, said, ‘Appetite for food and sex is nature”. In fact, the importance of food in understanding human culture lies precisely in its infinite variability -variability that is not essential for species survival. For survival needs, all men everywhere could eat the same food, to be measured only in calories, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins. But no, people of different backgrounds eat very differently. The basic stuffs from which food is prepared; the ways in which it is preserved, cut up, cooked (if at all); the amount and variety at each meal; the tastes that are liked and disliked; the customs of serving food; the utensils; the beliefs about the food’s properties -these all vary. The number of such “food variables” is great.
A table setting in every country is important as it shows the way of how the food is served and consumed as well as their culture. For instance, for Chinese table settings, they put chopsticks and spoons instead of folks and knives like western table settings. The main reason is that the Chinese cuisine is more to be served and consumed with chopsticks whereas in Western cuisine, there are more foods like steaks, salads, breads or even pastas which are usually consumed with folks and knives instead of chopsticks. In other words, it shows the culture of the country itself as well as also shows partially of the way it is to be consumed.
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The picture above is an example of Chinese table setting. It consists of:
Water or tea cups
The picture below is the close up version of the above picture.
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The picture above shows the Chinese table setting, too but this is the for the VIPs. And it consists of:
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The picture above shows how and what is to be served or to be changed when it comes to serving Chinese cuisine by course by course and the table contains:
Water or tea glasses or cups
Round and rectangular trays
Lastly, the picture below shows the overall environment of a Chinese table setting.
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Through completing this assignment I got to have more time to look into the Chinese cuisine as well as the meaning of each and every Chinese cuisine especially when it comes to wedding dinner and also, I never thought that the table setting would be this important however after finishing this assignment I realized that the table setting actually shows and represents the culture.