From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chinese Finger Foods

This past Saturday, Kim, Aunt Maryann and I attended a red carpet premiere event of Friday Night Lights, as a benefit for Gridiron Heroes, who also hosted the event. The event included a cocktail reception, a benefit auction (where I saw an autographed Jerry Rice jersey) meet and greet with the stars, and the opportunity to watch the premiere of the first 2 episodes of season 4 which are scheduled to hit the TV’s on May 7th.

I was intrigued by the finger foods offered, as they ran the gamut of flavors and textures. There were many different cheeses and crackers available to enjoy, with dips that complemented the crackers quite well. My personal favorite was the Roasted Garlic and Feta Cheese dip. There were also dried fruits, sunflower seeds and antipasti of prosciutto, salami, and olives. These were just a sampling of the flavors available, and there were waiters wandering around the floor with platters of potato cakes, mini-tacos stuffed with pork and barbecue brisket sliders.

It was amusing to see the line of people practically scrambling and climbing over each other to try to get these “gourmet” items. (If they only knew…)

Chinese gatherings are rarely planned with the option of finger-food appetizers. Instead, it is normally a gathering where, as soon as pleasantries have been exchanged, everyone is sitting around a table loaded with tasty treats. There may be red table cloths, with chopsticks set with the flatware, and you may even see Chinese fans on each place setting.

More contemporary serving styles will have someone with a huge pot of soup serve it to each individual place setting, but the more traditional way of doing it, which I prefer, is to have the huge bowl of soup in the center of the table, and all the guests get to help themselves. Often times this soup will be a won ton soup, or an egg drop soup, or a variation of hot and sour soup.

The second course would include a Cold Sesame Noodle dish, Mu Shu Pork, or even a Mongolia Hot Pot, with the entrees to be the third.

Most popular entrees include a spicy dish of some sort, including Kung Pao Chicken, and a seafood dish, or vegetable dish to add balance to the menu.

Overall, the option of “finger foods” is not one that really exists in the world of Chinese Food. You may find someone who serves fried potstickers, as they are easy to eat with your fingers, and can be accompanied with many different dipping sauces.  They are, however, a bit cumbersome and messy, if you attempt to eat them without chopsticks or a plate, which makes them less than favorable as a "finger food."

I have been known to offer a  popular appetizer choice for finger foods in the form of spring rolls. These are a favorite during New Years celebrations, as they symbolize wealth for the coming year, but they do not have to be limited to that time. Most spring rolls have ingredients similar to potstickers, but generally have more vegetables. Spring rolls pair well with a soy sauce or vinegar dipping sauce.  My favorite are the kinds that have the thin, flaky crust, but these require very special handling while in the raw wrapper form so to not have a broken roll as the end result.

For the kids, prawn crackers are a favorite finger and snack food. Prawn crackers are deep fried crackers made of flour and flavored with prawns. They are usually white, pale pink or light brown in color. Despite the high ratio of shrimp to the remaining ingredients used to make the prawn crackers, the shrimp taste is usually quite subtle. Prawn crackers can be found in any Chinese/Asian supermarket, and are prepared simply by deep frying in oil for a few seconds. The transformation from thumb sized semi-transparent chips to a fluffy white cracker is what creates the most excitement with the kids. Prawn crackers can be dipped into a sweet chili sauce, or eaten plain.

Fried tofu chips are also a popular finger food. These are simply blocks of firm tofu that have been fried in hot oil for a couple of minutes. The frying creates a rind that is especially crisp, and can be served with a soy sauce, sweet sauce, or a hot sauce. (Personally, I like them with just a dash of salt right out of the fryer.)  The most important thing to remember is to pat the blocks of tofu dry, just before slicing into small pieces.  Otherwise, when dropped in the hot oil, the water will cause the oil to pop and splatter.  Tofu is an acquired taste, so one cannot get too offended if it is not well accepted with the initial offering.  These chips do serve as a quick and easy snack, high in protein.

Clearly, there are many different options when it comes to the potential offerings for appetizers during a Chinese gathering. It simply becomes a matter of what style of service you choose to offer. While the traditional style of gathering around a table seems to be the overwhelming favorite among most close-knit Chinese families, the day and age of double income families, with less social time has resulted in the need to come up with a more efficient way to serve large gatherings, when we have them.

There is no right (or wrong) way to serve a large gathering. The best thing to remember is that the food needs to taste good. If you are able to guarantee that 1 most important element, usually, with good company, the rest will fall into place.  Give it a try.  You may be surprised at the result.

Until then,  Good Eating, Friends...

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