The Chinese Wedding Feast
This past weekend, Tina and I had the good fortune of being invited the wedding of Will and Kaman, some good friends of mine from back in my IBM days. Will and I enjoyed all the privileges, madnesses and frustrations of working in a monolithic corporation, including the hyper-competitive world of recreational softball.
As the sole white Anglo-Saxon on the team, it was my pleasure to pathetically hit weak-ass ground balls only barely out of the infield, running as fast as I possibly could to atone for my broad incompetence. In return, the members of Team Fusion (or, as we liked to call it, Team F-Asian) embraced me as thueir Token Honky, and to this day I’ve been lucky to count Will as a good friend.
Which is good news for Tina and me, because Will invited us to his wedding, and Chinese weddings are freaking amazing. Having enjoyed a spectacular one years ago with another good friend of mine, I was so excited to enjoy another with Tina, for three key reasons:
- They are beautiful in a way conventional Western weddings try to be, but never quite manage;
- It’s always awesome to be immersed in another culture; and
- At Chinese weddings you can expect to eat constantly for about three hours
I think, to be honest, it was the last point that really sold us both. And since we’re classy people who would never ever gloat about the incredible meal that we got to enjoy, we’ll just show you all the pictures and talk about each dish in detail — you know, to educate you.
Because we’re classy.
Mike Says: All right, Tina: Before we get started, what were you expecting out of an official Chinese Wedding Dinner?
Tina K says: ooh, I was expecting to eat until my pancreas exploded. And, in fact, it might have if it wasn’t for the heavy duty Spanx I had the presence of mind to squeeze myself into.
Mike says: Had you been to one before?
Tina K says: No!! I was a Chinese Wedding Virgin! I’ve heard stories though, so of course I was rapt with the idea of attending one myself, for two reasons: reasons: 1) I love weddings. Even when I start to cry and it’s not allergy related. 2) W & K are such amazing people, and I was just chuffed that they invited us!
Mike says: Me too. And of course with our own wedding in the works, a little jealous part of me died when I saw how great they looked.
Tina K says: Seriously. So a Chinese bride is not only allowed but EXPECTED to change into at least three dresses? Awesome.
“Look, here I am looking amazing in red!”
Mike says: It’s like someone encoded into custom your dream wedding.
Behold: A reason to change dresses often!
Tina K says: “And PINK!! Don’t I look awesome in PINK?!!!” Yup. I want to have a Chinese wedding….ooh, but with the same cantors from A&S’s Jewish wedding.
And I kind of want to jump the broom, if only because it reminds me that I need to do more housework.
Mike says: Plus the same drinking and dancing as the Polish wedding we went to..
Tina K says: YES! And with the elaborate embroidery/tent of the Persian wedding!
And can you stomp on a glass? Just because?
Mike says: I’m pretty certain that’s offensive to nearly everyone. So why not? Let’s go for it.
But to that point, let’s see how much excellence we can harvest from Will and Kaman’s wedding.
Tina K says: Ahhh yes. Starting with the fact that I want a roast suckling pig. They get roast suckling pigs at Macedonian weddings AND Chinese weddings. Just sayin’….
Mike says: We’ll hide one under your wedding dress.
Tina K says: Are you saying that I look like a pig?
Mike says: No, but we can make you smell like a deliciously cooked one!
Tina K says: Huh. Okay, deal.
Mike says: So speaking of, you were quick enough on the trigger to capture the menu from Saturday. Let’s take a look.
Tina K says: I thought you were kinda going to pop a vein in your forehead when it said the first course was roast suckling pig (pork: your FAVORITE!) with jellyfish..hehehehe
Admit that you were scared.
Mike says: …I admit nothing. Though it did kind of remind me that Chinese cooking is like a game of Scattergories sometimes.
(BLANK) suckling (BLANK) with roasted (BLANK) fish!
Fill it in and enjoy!
Tina K says: And nothing is ever lost in the translation…..
Mike says: Part of me always quietly suspects that the Chinese text says something completely different.
Tina K says: I’m a total sucker for seaweed salad (which I can’t help picking up EVERY TIME I’m hungry at the grocery store..which is every time I’m at the grocery store. End stop.) so that was just pure pleasure for me.
The jelly fish? Having never tried jelly fish before, it wasn’t at all what I expected.
Mike says: I don’t actually remember it tasting like anything, in particular.
Sort of squidgy, and overwhelmed by the seaweed salad, which was strong.
Tina K says: Yes! The texture was chewy but the taste was mild. It just kind of fit in with the julienned seaweed, didn’t it?
Anyway, I thought it was grand.
Mike says: Totally. It matched up nicely with the pork — WHICH I TRIED — that had a strong flavor of its own.
Suckling pig is less intimidating when portioned.
Tina K says: The pork? Oh yeaaaaah. A suckling masterpiece. Crispy skin, moist slow cooked meat, flavorful
and PERFECTLY portioned so everyone got a bit of skin, a bit of meat, a titch of fat…..
Mike says: Yum, pork fat.
Tina K says: I ate yours. Shut up.
Mike says: But hey, you know what’s even better than slabs of pig fat?
Tina K says: Hmmm?
Mike says: COMICIALLY HUGE CLAWS!
Tina K says: Ha! So these were good, they really were, but they weren’t NOTEWORTHY to me.
Possibly because I get them every time that I go for dim sum.
Mike says: Really? Ones these size?
They were softballs.
(I’ll keep going if you like)
Tina K says: Ha! Did you eat it? Or did I eat yours? I can’t remember. Anyway, the crab claw tip is embedded in a sort of crab cake….sort ot.
It’s pureed crab (among other things) with a spongy texture like a fish ball but that slightly sweet crabby taste.
Mike says: Yeah, I thought it was neat. It gave the impression that you were eating some kind of infinite crab claw.
Tina K says: Then they bread it with almonds, among other things (at dim sum it’s often coconut or panko)
which was a neat texture balance.
“Infinite crab claw”??
Mike says: It just kept going and going.
It was like eating a small apple made of crab.
Tina K says: But…but it didn’t. And no, it wasn’t.
It was like eating a crab claw inside a crab flavored fish ball (which is delicious!)
Mike says: Don’t take this away from me.
Tina K says: Okay, it was a planetoid claw of crab.
Mike says: WHOOOSH!
Tina K says: But you only get three gimmes, so make them count….
Mike says: Fine. People, it was awesome.
But onto something more subtle.
Tina K says: Subtle? Or something more seafood?
Mike says: Both.
Tina K says: Did you eat this one or did I eat yours (again)?
Mike says: No, you didn’t start eating my stuff until later, when I was humiliating myself on the dance floor.
Tina K says: Ahhh yes, Lobsterfest.
Mike says: On the sauteed scallops and prawns?
They sure were… sauteed scallops and prawns.
Tina K says: No, on your danciong.
Mike says: Oh!
Tina K says: But they were good, no?
They were tender.
Mike says: My dance moves: Yes. The scallops and prawns: Also yes.
Tina K says: I love seafood with snap peas.
(which were a perfect tender-crisp)
(a perfect GARLICKY tender crisp)
Mike says: It struck me as a very simple, excellently-prepared dish.
Naturally, I gobbled it up like a hungry child. So it’s possible I missed the more subtle notes.
Tina K says: No babe. No. I think you missed the more subtle notes in the shark fin soup. Oh, and did you know this was the first time I had ever eaten shark fin soup (a delicacy, I know), which is forever ruined for me?
Mike says: That is an unfair statement.
Tina K says: TURKEY STOCK?!
Mike says: A side story: One time at a wine tasting, MAY HAVE RUINED it for everyone by saying the red wine smelled like fresh beef when you unwrap it.
Tina K says: You compared it to turkey stock.
Mike says: And then everyone agreed with me, oh yes, this smells like meat.
It’s POSSIBLE that I did the same thing with the shark fin soup course.
Tina K says: I could not drink said meat-wine. Please never do that to me.
Tell them what you did.
Mike says: All I may have said was, “Man, does this ever taste familiar. I can almost put my finger on– oh yeah! It tastes like turkey gravy! (slurp slurp) Oh right, totally like Thanksgiving!”
And it’s possible that even the Chinese people at our table said, upon their next taste, “Oh my God you’re right, you’ve ruined shark fin soup for me.”
Tina K says: Uh huh. But worse yet, you were right. It was equally delicious to Thanksgiving, though!
So….you’ve had shark fin soup before, right?
Mike says: Yes.
Tina K says: Okay. I hadn’t.
(and I’m pissed that you had a culinary adventure I was not part of0
Mike says: But I hasten to point out that the menu says this version includes shredded chicken and bamboo pitch.
So the avian flavoring is not entirely a surprise.
Tina K says: Ohhhhhh. Okay.
That makes sense. I was wondering what the delicious stringy bits were.
I thought maybe straw mushroom? Or…turkey?
Mike says: Not bamboo pith.
Tina K says: Huh. From the shark fin?
Mike says: So I’ve been told. The soup is rendered down from the shark fin, and the dense connective tissue is reduced down to a very fine, delicate film like that.
Tina K says: I don’t know if I believe you. I mean, I’m thinking of making stock. So the fin would add that gelatinous texture, right? But the stringiness? That was more…protein like.
Perhaps the chicken? It was almost like a mung bean noodle texture.
Mike says: Keep in mind that you’re boiling the fin of a bloody great shark.
I have to believe that it would have the texture of bone, almost.
If you cook that long enough, it would break down.
Tina K says: Exactly my point!
Oh. You typed too soon. That’s not my point at all.
Mike says: I’m sorry that wasn’t your point.
Tina K says: Bones take a REALLY long time to break down….
Mike says: My point is, don’t share your flavor experiences with people if they are too accurate.
Tina K says: And…they don’t. Break down.
Not like that.
Ha! Yes. Shark fin = turkey stock.
Mike says: If this gets out, we could ruin Chinese weddings forever.
Tina K says: So….braised melon marrow and whole canopi with greens?
Mike says: So instead let’s talk about what “melon marrow” is.
Tina K says: I have no idea.
Mike says: You might have eaten this for me.
Tina K says: I ate your mushroom because you said it had the texture of canned mushrooms (which it did) which likely meant it was reconstituted?
Again, the ‘dressing’, or braising broth, was really light and just a bit garlicky.
The baby bok choy were AWESOME.
Mike says: Oh man, to call that a “bed of greens” is a pathetic injustice. If anyone wants to come over and pour garlicky broth over bok choy for me — GO AHEAD. It is not a garnish!
Tina K says: Sorry, not ‘canopi’, it was ‘conpoi’. Which is…. fish? I think I’m going to google that, hold on….
Mike says: (magical wind chimes musical sound to indicate the passage of time)
Tina K says: OH! COOLNESS!! Okay, so conpoi is a cooked sea scallop which has been dried and then reconstituted.
So…..this was a dish of reconstituted seafood and mushroom with bok choy!
I’m so excited to understand what I was eating!
Mike says: I’m intrigued by the concept of sea scallop jerky.
Tina K says: Wikipedia says that conpoi has a lot of ‘umami’ <- catch phrase I depise #143, and I can see that.
It wasn’t jerky like, though! The texture was just…heartier than a regular scallop.
And the color was much darker. More flavorful.
Mike says: But at some point, it was jerky-like – prior to re-constitution.
I can see you chawing on that while we’re on a road trip.
“What’s that you’re eating? And why does it suddenly smell like a wharf in the car?”
Tina K says: Is that a hint so I’ll stop eating the crispy dried silverfish from my Indian markets?
Mike says: Don’t make me cry.
Tina K says: Because that’s not going to happen.
Mike says: Okay, if you’re going to be that way … time for the everybody-pleasing chicken portion.
Tina K says: As in, “The Dish Mike Ate That Tina Didn’t Immediately Hijack”.
I let you have your chicken.
Love you, babe.
Mike says: Thanks, boo.
I viewed this course as the point at which everyone just needed to pause and eat chicken.
Tina K says: Do you remember when Sabs brought us to that amazing surprise Chinese restaurant Fantaxia?
Mike says: “Things are going a bit fast here, we’ve had a lot of fish and planet-sized crab. Let’s all come to our senses, with tasty fried chicken.”
Tina K says: The one where you just pick the number of courses and they make stuff?
Mike says: And one of the courses was a conch shell that dispensed food like a horn o’ plenty?
I dream of that place.
Tina K says: GOD that was good. Yeah. Ooh, I think my nipples just started to tingle thinking of the curried conch. Anyway, one of the most memorable dishes was that chicken which had been deboned, stuffed with sticky rice and deep fried.
I still wake up panting sometimes when I have a dream about that dinner….
Mike says: …did this chicken take you back there, Vietnam-flashback style?
Tina K says: Anyway, this ‘roast’ chicken reminded me of that dish. I think it was the uber-crispy skin and the succulent moist meat.
God that was good.
And slightly five-spiced.
Mike says: Understatement seems to be the cornerstone of the Chinese wedding menu.
“Hey, I made this delicately-spiced, perfectly roasted and yet tenderly moist poultry. What should we call it?”
“Enh, call it ‘crispy chicken.'”
Tina K says: “How bout…’chicken’…”
“‘Crispy chicken’ scares the Westerners…”
How do you say ‘honky’ in Cantonese?
Mike says: ‘Mike and Tina’?
Tina K says: Because I bet that was on our menu somewhere…
Mike says: But look, I think it was a tactic before they brought out the scary shellfish.
Tina K says: Scary? How would you know? You were up grooving (in the heart) when this came out.
And you had a claw.
So, of course, I ate mine…and then yours….
Mike says: I saw the remnants!
Tina K says: It was worth it.
Mike says: But yes, the dance floor was calling and I had to answer.
Tina K says: Drycleaning lobster juice off of a silk dress was STILL worth it.
I went feral.
I actually started cracking the legs with my teeth and sucking out what little meat I could find.
Mike says: There were fragments of shell everywhere.
Tina K says: In my hair, there was shell. Again, TOTALLY WORTH IT.
Mike says: To be honest, I’m glad you could get into this — I’m a total wuss when it comes to nearly-intact sea monsters.
I know they’re good, but I have a hard time manually disassembling them.
Tina K says: (you’re the monster, Mr. No Squid Guy)
Mike says: (SQUIDS SHOULD NOT BE!)
Tina K says: (I wish there was a 13th course which was squid. After dessert. Just for me)
Mike says: (The little known Squid Buffet?)
So anyway, after this came more fish, this time a seasonal whitefish that filled the plate.
Tina K says: you hated this one. I ate yours. Again.
It was AWESOME.
Skin + Bones = No Mike
Mike says: I don’t even like unexpected candies in my ice cream.
You can imagine how I reacted to bones of animals in my mouth.
“Oh! A fish’s rib! Nestled in my throat!”
Tina K says: Okay, so can I talk about this one?
The texture of the fish was buttery and just flaked meltingly when you cut into it.
Ginger, scallions and soy are all strong flavors, but they were done so WELL here that it was pleasing and subtle.
The fish tasted like it had been poached in a just slightly sweet, slightly salty and utterly flavorful broth.
God, I could go for some of that right now….
Mike says: So the net of this one is: Being a wimp costs you delicious fish.
Tina K says: And, after defiling two small plates of lobster, I wasn’t being shy about the bones.
You got to eat your rice though, right?
I let you have that!
Mike says: Did I ever!
I needed the carbs.
Tina K says: To soak up the vodka….
Mike says: By this time I was The Only Guy Dancing about three times.
Tina K says: (I heart open bars)
The rice was awesome. THe noodles were…noodles.
(I also heart noodles)
Mike says: I think it was a carefully-staged serving, given the time of night.
The number of people all sloshed and dancing to catchy tunes.
Who may require carbohydrates and eggy proteins to replenish their energy.
Tina K says: Perhaps. The rice was fantabulous, though, alcohol absorbing or not.
I love Chinese barbecued pork and sticky rice!
Mike says: Who doesn’t! But what about braised noodle?
Speaking of that, what is a braised noodle?
Tina K says: Well, the texture spoke to the fact that they were fresh noodles, and they tasted like they had just been blanched until al dente and then finished in a soy based cooking broth.
Mike says: Aha! Considering that my entire sophistication with noodles involves “boiling them”, this is all new to me.
Tina K says: I tasted Shao Hsing (Chinese cooking wine), ginger, garlic and scallion, but mostly light soy.
So you got to enjoy rice and noodles. Double the starch, double your fun!
Then….red bean soup.
Talk to me, Mike.
Mike says: Oh, red beans.
Tina K says: Let me know how you really felt.
Mike says: Look: Every culture has their dessert “thing.”
I come from Scottish stock. What Scots consider to be dessert would absolutely blind you with horror. As I understand it, my ancestors feel it’s acceptable to slice oatmeal.
So whenever I have something made from red bean paste, I can’t be too critical.
I just… don’t get it.
Tina K says: Seriously? Are you kidding? I get that you didn’t really LOVE this soup, but red bean in general is pretty friggin’ awesome.
Also: you love red bean.
You love red bean buns,
(sweet and savory)
red bean sauce,
and those delectable moon cake style treats with red bean paste.
Oh, and red bean ice cream.
No, wait, it’s ME that loves red bean ice cream. Even so, there’s a lot going on there with the red bean.
So what was it about the soup?
Mike says: I think… I think it was just that it was a LOT of red bean.
Tina K says: (there is never too much bean)
Mike says: In every other case, you’re talking about it in combination with other things: Buns, ice cream, treats, confections.
It’s a strong flavor balanced with something else. When it’s a bowl of soup, wooo hooo, that’s a lot.
But again, I admit to wussiness here.
Tina K says: But….but it’s NOT a strong flavor, it’s a delicate and nutty flavor! I think it was the texture that eked you out.
Admittedly, this was not my favorite either.
It was like you took stewed beans in a sweetened broth, cooked until some of them just started to break down, and then added poached peanuts.
(which may have been the lotus seeds?)
Mike says: (possibly?)
Good thing the sweets duo rapidly followed!
Tina K says: And lily bulb…..tasted like red bean. So I don’t know. It was….bulby.
Oh, the sweets duo.
Dry coconut deliciousness!
Mike says: Mango jelly square things!
Tina K says: Mango! Jellies!
Mike says: Oh man, I loved those.
Tina K says: Yeah…hence the picture where the plate ‘stopped’ in front of you, never to move forward again…
Mike says: Look, how was I to know that it meant to be shared?
The other portions were generous!
Tina K says: Because….there was a tray. And we all had empty plates.
Plates that were waiting for mango jellies.
Mike says: Pfffft.
Tina K says: So: overall thoughts on dinner?
Mike says: I can’t find words that express my delight adequately.
There’s a constant assortment of decadent, beautifully-prepared and exotic ingredients coming at you, and all you can do is eat, eat, and then eat.
And possibly dance.
I chose to dance.
Tina K says: I chose to eat.
And I don’t regret that decision.
Mike says: We both chose to enjoy.
And it was the right thing to do.
I don’t know if they’re readers of ours, but I have to thank Will and Kaman for a beautiful wedding, a generously open bar, and one of the best meals I’ve had in years.
Tina K says: Absolutely!!! I loved that I was being exposed to a very traditional celebratory Chinese meal, and I had the opportunity to try things that I otherwise might not lean towards. Like, you know, reconstituted dried scallops (delicious!), melon marrow (no idea) and lily bulb (beany).
Also, how gorgeous was Kaman?
I am almost sickened with jealousy when I think of her coming out in not one, not two, but MULTIPLE fabulous outfits. Each one, of course, absolutely stunning.
Mike says: And so gracious to terrible, embarrassing dancers at her wedding.
The true sign of class.
Tina K says: PS – Kaman: your green dress? You looked so hot that if I saw you in a bar I would totally spill a drink on you, just because.
Mike says: I can’t top that.