Have you noticed that most Chinese, with a few exceptions of those who have been in the top tier for a long time like Sir David Tang, when we need to entertain or socialize in style, we rarely or never adopt Chinese style dining. Romantic dinners, wine tasting parties, business cocktails, theme parties, or even weddings, when style is an important element of the event, most Chinese sacrifice their heritage palate for style. When it comes to Chinese style entertaining, dining seems to be somewhat limited to the taste of the food, and when presentation is addressed, it’s often the kind of presentation that is very old school palatial, or done in true tradition to evoke whimsical memories of traditional Chinese upbringing and family values. Style and ambiance definitely do not go hand in hand with Chinese cuisine for most Chinese.
Living in Vancouver, Canada, where there is a big population of well-to-do Chinese immigrants, I first noticed this phenomenon when attending some of those well-to-do Chinese family weddings. When it comes to one of the most important events of one’s life, where style is definitely crucial for brides and grooms, parents and family members are forced to dine French, or Italian, or west coast fusion. What about the food that we grew up eating? The food that our families shared countless warm memories with? Sadly, when it comes to entertaining, you either choose popular style with non-Chinese cuisine, or choose your heritage and sacrifice style. I hope that this can change.
Yes, the foundation of modern civilization is one of the west. Western style inevitably prevails in the collective concept of modern elegance and decadence. But the queen and pioneer of modern style Coco Chanel herself, was madly in love with Chinese art and decor. Her apartment on Rue Cambon in Paris is filled with Chinese artifacts and treasures. Why should we as Chinese not feel all the more confident in our great heritage when it comes to decor and entertaining? I know there may be much deeper and intricate social complications on this matter, but I will not delve into that here since this is an article about entertaining not a sociology thesis. Don’t you think it’s about time that we start giving more thoughts to embracing and popularizing stylish entertaining with Chinese cuisine, even if for no better reason than it merely being so damn beautiful, sophisticated, and chic!
One of my favourite restaurants in Vancouver is Baobei, it has been featured in many different media including Time magazine. It’s usual patrons are not the typical Chinese crowd but the hollywood types and the hipsters. It is a great example of how Chinese dining can be authentic in taste, and stylish and creative in presentation. Their menu is filled with what I would call the Chinese equivalent of French peasant food like Shao Bin Yo Tiao, Manto, and Gua Bao, all of which are true to the authentic Chinese taste, and sometimes with a little culinary twist, but always so creative and chic in presentation. They don’t serve the fancy Chinese banquet dishes, but simply dress up our most simple and common dishes with a whimsical vintage sophistication. A refreshing change for the palatial banquet style dining with no real depth in design. Yes, I am talking about the marbles, the frosted glass art depicting phoenix and running horses, and the shiny chandeliers. It’s always a treat to dine there to enjoy the best tasting food I grew up eating and feel so proud at the same time to be a child of such a great culture.
To practice what I preach and to also satisfy my fantasy of a romantic and chic Chinese style entertaining experience, I threw a little party earlier this past Spring and simply called it "A Chinese Party" on my invitation. The decor was not over the top, but it was fun and romantic filled with little details like symbolic objects, such as Chinese figurines and fortune cookies. Peonies were my choice for flowers, a Chinese favourite in paintings. The result was great! My guests were thrilled to dine Chinese style with a romantic ambiance and all had a great time eating, drinking, and sharing. Some of my guests even refer the night to being dreamy. Really, Chinese parties can be dreamy and romantic! This is an experience I wish more people could enjoy, and a trend I would love to see popularized. A cocktail party or a romantic dinner? Let’s do Chinese!