Every time I go to a wedding, I try to think about the love. I try to focus on the whole notion of "two people, from vastly different walks of life, committing to spending the rest of their lives with each other" business. I tell my mind to stay on the wise words of the [insert-name-of-religious-leader-or-non-religious-ordained-by-the-internet-friend-here]. I try to join in the oohing and aahing over the cute flower girl and ring bearer. But inevitably, my mind drifts to the post-service reception, and more importantly, the feast that is to follow. Don't get me wrong. I like love. I just like steak more.
The hubster and I have been blessed with a super diverse set of friends. It's been great for all the warm, feel good reasons like learning about different cultures and being a part of other traditions. But most importantly, it's meant we've been a part of some epic wedding feasts. Everything from Indian to Afghan to Japanese. I thought I'd seen (and eaten!) it all. Until I met... the Chinese wedding banquet.
Let me put this into perspective. The average wedding feast can be divided into two general categories. The sit-down meal vs. the buffet. Each option comes with its own set of pros and cons. With the sit-down meal, course after course is brought to you (which is great because it can be uber embarassing to slip in high heels, on a shiny hardwood floor, carrying a plate of rice. Not that I know this from experience or anything. I'm just saying that sounds like it'd be rather traumatizing). The only downside is, you generally pick your entree ahead of time and you're pretty much outta luck if your neighbor's entree looks better. With the buffet, you can pick your favorites (and go back for seconds! Again, not saying I would ever do anything quite so crass but one could go back for seconds, if they were so inclined). The downside is, it kinda feels like you're standing in the never-ending line at Sweet Tomatoes.
Enter, the Chinese buffet. Ten courses. Brought to your table. Served family style. Dear Lord, I now know what heaven must be like. When the hubster first described the concept, I thought he was mocking me. I mean, it all sounded too good to be true. I didn't have to brave the food line. I didn't have to pick my entree ahead of time. And the seconds were right. in. front. of. me. Like I said, too good to be true. And then last weekend, I found out such a concept actually exists.
Once the table of friends realized I was a banquet newbie, they started educating me in the art of the Chinese wedding banquet. They said most wedding banquets follow a pretty predictable pattern. Appetizers. A soup. A couple of entrees. Oh, and a rice course which is pretty much a formality because if banquet is prepared properly, the guests are far to stuffed to eat rice at the end of the meal. And dessert, of course. They also said most Chinese wedding banquets are heavy on the seafood. Which was a-okay by me. And once the platters started coming and they saw my amazement, they were all too happy to let me take pictures before attacking the food.
Course 1. The massive appetizer platter with preserved beef, braised chicken, roasted pork, seaweed salad, baby octopus, and a giant pile of jellyfish in the middle. All served cold. All interesting, with the jellyfish being surprisingly tasty.
Course 2. Jumbo prawns and glazed walnuts in a honey sauce. Next time, I'm asking for a platter of these for myself.
Course 3. Braised sea scallops and clams on Chinese greens. This dish was somewhat mild after the delicious prawns but the scallops were cooked perfectly. And I even tried some greens.
Course 4. Shark fin soup. The table raved about how this was good shark fin soup because you could see lots of chunks of fin but this course was totally lost on me. It mostly tasted like a gelatinous, fishy pudding and I was sad some shark gave up its fin for a philistine like me.
Course 5. Lobster. Not one but two lobsters, broken up into pieces. And just in case you're looking for the lobster cracker, don't bother. You need to use your fingers, your fork, your chopsticks, your Swiss Army knife, or any other suitable tool to get at that lobster meat. And this is perfectly acceptable dinnertime behavior.
Course 6. Duck skin. Yup, you read correctly. The duck skin is so widely appreciated, it's a course all on its own. Crispy, crackly, fatty duck skin, served with buns, scallions, and hoisin sauce. You pull the bun in half, spread a thin layer of hoisin sauce, layer on a piece of crispy skin, top with some scallions, and devour. The platter of duck skin is followed by the actual duck. Clearly, I was still trying to come out the delicious duck skin haze since I didn't even get a picture of the actual duck. I was also beginning to suffer a bit of a food coma but I was trying to be strong for the sake of my journalistic integrity.
Course 7. Braised chicken. Do not shrug. This was no ordinary chicken. It was, by far, the most flavorful chicken I have ever had. I contemplated sticking a few pieces in my sparkly evening clutch for a snack for the ride home. But alas, the table polished off the chicken before I could snag my to-go pieces.
Course 8. Smoked fillet of black cod. The biggest, most buttery piece of fish I have ever encountered. I don't know what kind of smoking technique the kitchen used but this monstrous piece of fish was cooked perfectly.
Course 9. Crab fried rice. I don't care if this was supposed to be a filler. It was delicious and I ate two bowls (even though I felt like I was about to burst).
Course 10. Mango mousse. Molded in the shape of a lobster. With maraschino cherry eyes. Weird? Yes. Delicious? Double yes. Oh, and instead of wedding cake, there were delicious, giant, cream puffs. And yes, I ate a second cream puff when I realized the table behind us had chocolate covered cream puffs.
By the end of the night, the hubster had to roll me to the car. With a big, content, grin on my face. So, if you need a date to a Chinese wedding banquet, I'm your gal. Oh, but I might have to bring the hubster along because he'd never forgive me if I went to a feast like the one above without him.