Note: this was written for the lovely wedding issue for the Tampa Tribune
The Chinese culture is filled with food traditions and symbolisms, so much in fact that I could never keep up and remember them all. During the entire 6 days surrounding my wedding, I deferred to my mother to tell me what to eat to please the Gods of good fortune and fertility. Oh, did I want to have some grapes? I had to eat five of them, not one less because that number that I must not utter, one less than five, means something bad in Chinese. In fact, I am choosing each and every word very carefully in this column so that in case YOU are the one getting married, I do not want to be blamed for any misfortune!
My wedding with Scott was a nice blend of his culture (Scottish-German) and mine. We exchanged vows at Pebble Beach’s legendary 18th hole (ok, Scott just corrected me and said “fairway” not “hole” because I don’t think they’d let 10 pairs of three-inch stilettos aerate the baby-soft skinny grass at the hole), but included Chinese customs throughout the entire week
One custom that we opted out of was serving a whole roast suckling pig at the wedding banquet. According to the Chinese, the pig symbolizes the virginity of the bride, and um, you know where I’m going with that. I say, no sense in pretending or misrepping what is not true, because that would be a lousy way to begin a marriage! Plus, where the heck would we find a whole suckling pig in the middle of a gucci golf resort? Can you even imagine the chef struggling to fit the fat pig on his fancy rotisserie grill?
There is one tradition that I would like to share with you, eating noodles. For birthdays, new year and weddings, noodles are served to represent long life. Don’t be tempted to cut the noodles, or you’ll be “cutting your life short.” You may not be Chinese, but really, there’s no harm in covering all your bases. I mean, who knows what deity drew the short straw and was appointed to be in charge something so boring like “lifespan?”
So, I created one easy dish that covered all your important bases – sort of cramming in as much good fortune as possible on one plate. The sesame seeds and pea pods in the noodles symbolize fertility (remember, if you don’t want children, substitute with any greens, bean sprouts or sliced bamboo shoots.) Shrimp, in Chinese, is pronounced “haa” which sounds like laughter, and may your marriage be full of happiness.
And of course, this column has 688 words, my way of wishing you a smooth path to double prosperity.
Long Life Fertility Noodles with Happy Shrimp
6 ounces thin spaghetti noodles
7 ounces shrimp, deveined
1 ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt, divided
½ teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/4 cup snow peas, sliced thin on diagonal
1/4 cup matchstick cut carrots
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Bring a stockpot of water to boil. Add 1 tsp of salt to water and cook thin spaghetti, according to package directions. Drain. While pasta is cooking, place shrimp in a small bowl and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the cornstarch. Mix well and let sit for 8 minutes. Rinse the shrimp well, washing off the salt and cornstarch. Pat very dry with paper towels.
In a wok or large skillet, heat cooking oil on high until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates upon contact. Add the shrimp and fry until halfway cooked through, about 1 minute each side. Dish out the shrimp to a plate, keeping as much oil in wok as possible (you should have about 1 teaspoon of oil left and you may add an just a bit of oil into the pan if needed.)
Turn heat down to medium and add garlic. Fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds then add the snow peas and carrots. Fry for 1 minute, until the carrots and snow peas are cooked but still retain a nice crunch. Add the soy sauce and rice wine. Turn heat to high and add the drained spaghetti noodles and shrimp. Toss well to combine. Let cook for 2 minutes, until shrimp is cooked through. Toss with sesame oil and sesame seeds.
Yields 2 auspicious servings
My Photo Setup
This was a simple setup, with the big glass window the the right. Yup, that’s my kid’s breakfast table that I’m using. I’ve been noticing that both Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines have been lots of overhead shots of food. Not a style that I’m fond of – the food isn’t as intimate and you lose a lot of texture from above. But, I wanted to try it and see on this dish.
Take a look at the second photo (above) Do you know how (*&$!!%! hard it was to stand on an itty bitty stool and balance while holding camera still enough to focus? Half my shots were blurry! heehee!
And yes, I know I could have just put the entire thing on the floor and used my tripod…but at that moment in time, I just wasn’t smart enough to think of that. Plus, that was going to be our dinner and who know what random toy airplane, spaceship or car would roll right over the food. Usually, when a toy car goes whizzing by, 2 pairs of pitter patter bare feet are chasing it.