Only in Taiwan – Episode 2

Atta girl. Work that…stick thing.

Many readers will be familiar with what I am going to call Taiwanese hot pot. But let’s get something straight. Food porn is not my thing.

Other than watching the occasional episode of No Reservations, or reading Michael Procopio’s Food for the Thoughtless, I think about food when it’s time to eat or I’m scrolling through channels and Masterchef Jr. Who doesn’t love Australian kids with an insane knowledge of food and eating?

Anorexic supermodels might have problems; the rest of us are beyond addicted to and obsessed with nearly every aspect of food. While I love to cook, I don’t have a passion for talking about or watching someone else do it. Allow me to hedge a bit on that; I loved Junior MasterChef Australia and quite frankly, I could watch Martha Stewart pick the lint out of her sweater, as long as she’s describing the process in media res. At any rate, the very last thing on my mind when I’m going to dinner is taking pictures—of anything. I’m not looking for a pat on the back but bear in mind, the photographic evidence of food writing is always better left to the pros.

The telephoto lens works best in appetizer situations, I think.

That said, it doesn’t bother me that the quartet of diners at the next table over are staging and posing their seven-course meal, or that all four have their cameras out, each taking identical pictures of the dishes as they arrive, in fact I’m amused, really, despite knowing full well that a little chunk of the digital universe is now occupied by redundant and pointless binary references to your “moment.” You’re excited about your food. That’s cool. Doesn’t matter to me one way or the other except that sometimes the camera flashes are distracting.

On a positive note, it is entertaining to observe you in such a breath-taken state, scintillated by the magic and wonder of the culinary arts, otherwise known simply as “food service” to anyone who’s ever chopped an entire bushel of onions or bussed a table for minimum wage plus tips. At best, a life hasn’t been lived until you’ve seen a small group of 20-something women coo and sigh in erotic delight over a plate of nachos.

Let the previous two-paragraph disclaimer act as a preface to the episode, underscoring (what I consider to be) the bare absence of sexuality in food and its consumption. Having experienced full food service industry immersion, I see through the smoke and mirrors—the objectification and narcissism—of having a meal. Your experience leads you to project absolute importance and meaning into your existence by taking pictures of almost everything that goes in your mouth. It’s really too bad that people don’t walk around recording every word that comes out of their mouths, though I suspect that’s not that far off the horizon. Anyway, there is nothing especially magical about my bacon cheeseburger and therefore, there’s no seduction involved.

The only time I feel a sense of wonder and appreciation in a restaurant is when they get things right.

Though not fully stripped of pleasure and enjoyment, eating, particularly my evening meal is simply and exclusively a matter of utility. And Taiwanese hot pot is my go-to choice for dinner—the runner-up being sushi. In my view, other than eating at home, hot pot and sushi are the most utilitarian dining options in existence: you really can’t screw them up.

Mongolian hot pot.

Hot pot goes back more than a millennium, originating in Mongolia where the main ingredient was mutton, horse, or whatever had four legs and couldn’t outrun the Mongolians; it then spread to southern China during the Tang Dynasty and really got roiling in the Yuan Dynasty – which shouldn’t mean shit to the average reader but come on, a little history is not a dangerous thing. In time, regional variations developed with different ingredients such as seafood and sadly, a lot of other animals that would probably make you sick if I mentioned them here.

Moving along. Basically, people were putting whatever they could get their hands on into the pot, and who the fuck could blame them? You got a bunch of frogs jumping around, call them “field chickens” and start cooking those fuckers up. Let’s do it! By the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912), the hot pot became a staple throughout most of China. In today’s modern homes, the traditional coal-heated pot has been replaced by electric, gas and induction cookers. However, almost every household has some type of hot pot, just like in the 1970s when every American home had a Crock Pot, except nobody sat around watching it work.

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