Chinese Cultural Significance of the Chafing Dish

Almost all dishes of Chinese food are, as a rule, cooked in the kitchen by stir-frying, shallow frying, deep frying, stewing, steaming, etc. and then presented to the diners. Only the chafing dish merges the cooking and the eating processes. What is more, the cooking apparatus is placed on the table and fire is made to burn from the beginning to the end of the dinner. Doesn"t this remind you of the way of eating our remote ancestors were habituated to Even now, in our times, those who eat together around a chafing dish must be family members or close companions. They are your good friends, if not brothers. Doesn"t this smack of a deep feeling of perfect human relationship? Especially in deep winter, when the north wind is howling and snowflakes are flying, what can surpass dinning around a chafing dish for the enjoyment of life and sincere human relationship? 


The high temperature in the chafing dish is symbolic of the warmth of tender feeling that those people sitting around it have for each other, while the round shape of the apparatus is a hint at the lack or complete absence of irregularities in the man-to-man relationship. Undoubtedly, this way of eating is not only a figurative embodiment but a visual indication of the willingness to eat from the same pot and to share the same lot. This is the most highly prized merit of group consciousness.If we approach the chafing dish from the angle of hygiene and nutrition, we can easily see that owing to the high temperature in the apparatus all germs will be killed provided that the foodstuff is put in the dish for a sufficiently long time. The foodstuffs left for boiling in the chafing dish have each its constituents, which will in part be left in the boiling water, with the result that the ultimate soup will be very high in nutritious value, which every person present may partake of by simply using his spoon.

Now let"s delve a little more deeply into traditional Chinese philosophy from the point of view of the chafing dish. As was mentioned before, Chinese people like to have reunions, I think that is also the Chinese food culture, such as class reunions, reunions with relatives and reunions with childhood cronies. The periphery of a chafing dish, by its round shape, reminds one of people sitting in a circle as on the occasion of the lunar New Year, which is now called the spring Festival, while the hot soup in the chafing dish at the center of the table is the signification or a token of the affectionate emotion surging in the minds of those people seated around the table. The warm feeling is also at its boiling point, like the water in the chafing dish. The water serves to process the material being cooked in the chafing dish. This may convince one of the truth of the ancient saying that what is tough and unyielding can be conquered by patience and gentle handling. The chafing dish does not deny any meat or fish admission; it does not disdain the low-class vegetables; it makes no distinction in its treatment of materials from South and North; it does not repudiate condiments from either East or West; and it greets and accommodates materials of all ranks: costly delicacies produced in mountains, dainties of every kind from the seas, fresh and tasty edibles from rivers, vegetables in season, bean curd and even vermicelli made from bean starch. Nothing that comes to it is refused acceptance; everything is given the privilege of entering into the dish.<BR><BR> This embodies the attitude recommended in ancient China for adoption by rulers of "being hospitable to people of all strata in the land under heaven". In the chafing dish, meat and vegetables of every description are mixed without preference for any; the so-called five tastes are all present there; and the main ingredients and the accessories are intermingled without regard to tastes. This state of affairs gives embodiment to what was considered in the past the benefit of neutralization and called "the beauty of Central Harmony". What is more important is that the chafing dish can express to the highest degree both metaphorically and visually the profound meaning of the Chinese saying which is commonly used to guarantee a brotherly relationship, namely "to dine out of the same rice pot", this is the also the Chinese culture and Chinese characters, which means the sharing of weal and woe literally, without any discount at all. Furthermore, such dining out of the same pot or bowl is by no means compulsory in the case of the chafing dish. Everyone has his/her option in the selection of the main ingredient to be boiled and then eat it. This is the vivid and lively state of affairs described by the popular Chinese saying "Apart from realizing the unified will of the group, everyone is in a comfortable and relaxed frame of mind." For all these reasons, therefore, no matter whether it is in the Northeast, or at Guangzhou in the South, or in Sichuan or Yunnan to the west, or in Jiangsu or Zhejiang to the east, almost no one is not fond of dining out of a chafing dish. <BR>Another point of great importance from the philosophical point of view is that the chafing dish needs the employment of fire.<BR>The beginning of the use of fire was a great event in the cultural history of mankind. This event occurred in the history of the Chinese nation at a time immemorial. It dates back to about 1,700,000 years ago. The use of the chafing dish, therefore, has a history of at least 8,000 years. As a matter of fact, in the culture of China the use or non-use of fire and the eating of food in a cooked or raw state have always been regarded as the line of demarcation between progress and backwardness, between civilization and barbarism.<BR>The modern chafing dish is probably the reminiscences of "dining around a fire" in the earliest times or during intermission of a battle in the remote past.<BR>The chafing dish is not only a cooking method; it also provides a way of eating. It is not only a dietary mode; it is also a cultural mode. As a dietary mode, the chafing dish can be used by many people dining together, or by one person eating alone. Yet how few are those solitary diners to be found in a restaurant! In a chafing dish restaurant it"s really hard to meet with a customer dining by him/herself. This is not because the diner wants to economize, but because dining by oneself in front of a chafing dish is devoid of interest and joy. Generally speaking, the character of Chinese people dislike to dine alone. It is said that dining alone will render it difficult for one to put on weight and that dining in company with other people will make it easier for one to assimilate nourishment. Dining alone is tasteless, while dining with a company of people affords infinite enjoyment. If one cannot but drink and eat by oneself, one will have to stretch one"s imagination and fancy that his/her dining is going on with companions. Thus Li Bai, the famous poet of the Tang Dynasty, sang: "I raised my cup the bright moon to invite; and with my own shadow joining in, there were three people drinking." The opposite situation is described in China as "drinking in loneliness" or "drinking in a bored frame of mind".<BR>Drinking in loneliness not only denies one enjoyment but also jeopardizes his/her body. If you drink with close friends, then, as the Chinese saying goes, "A thousand cups of wine are too little when drinking with bosom friends", and even drinking in excess of your capacity for liquor will do you no harm.<BR>This is the purport of entertaining guests to dinner. It means not only eating and drinking. In the act of entertaining there is much room for strengthening human relationship and for uplifting consanguinity. It is not equivalent to having a dinner party. It doesn"t simply require that many people dine together. it means metaphorically and literally eating out of the same plate, the same rice pot or the same chafing dish. Obviously, the character of Chinese people are fond of entertaining guests not just because they are hospitable by nature. The true cause is to be fond in the ideological core of the Chinese culture ---the group consciousness.<BR>Looking back at the chafing dish, we can see that it is really head over heels impregnated with Chinese culture.<BR>From a commercial point of view, however, it would be necessary first of all to find a way to distinguish the great variety of types of chafing dish served in restaurants. The following concise description might be of help to a layman in this respect in making his choosing.<BR>Instant-boiled Mutton Dish:&nbsp;The chief ingredient is mutton. The sauce to be dipped in is of a peculiar sort, which is relished by most people living in the northern part of China.<BR>Acute-peppery Dish and Mandarin-duck Dish:<BR>This dish was invented by people in the Sichuan province. The original name sounded rather rude and was discarded in favor of the name "acute-peppery dish", which was preferred at places outside the Sichuan province. The "mandarin-duck" dish was invented later out of sympathy for fellow-diners who did not like the extremely hot taste. The term "mandarin duck" has the implication of a couple deeply in love with each other because mandarin duck are always seen in pairs. This type of chafing dish is suitable for lovers both young and old and, therefore, very popular.<BR>Pickled-vegetable and White-cut Pork Dish:<BR>This type was invented by people of the northeastern part of China. The main ingredients are pickled sour cabbage and streaky pork.<BR>Besides the four types mentioned above there are medicated-meal chafing dish, Japanese-style chafing dish, Republic-of-Korea chafing dish, etc. please keep in mind my advice that when you come to China you should not miss the opportunity of entering a chafing-dish restaurant to enjoy sharing in the dietary culture of China.