Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My Rules for Eating



Yesterday was one of the biggest holidays in the Muslim calendar. It was the breaking of the fast. Uyghurs celebrate this day by going from house to house of family, friends and neighbours. At each house you visit the amount of food on the table is just overwhelming; fruit, nuts, cakes, breads, candies, and sometimes several bowls of each. Over the past two years that I have lived here I have developed three rules of survival when being a guest in a local home:

Number One: The only food that counts is the food they see you eat. Therefore whenever your host leaves the room stop eating.

Number Two: Always be in the middle of eating something. This may mean you need to take very small bites to make the same piece of food last a long time. If your hands or plate are empty, your host will give you more food. Out here it is considered polite to put food on someone else’s plate. Therefore if you don’t keep your plate full they will do it for you and give you way more food than you can eat.

Number Three: If your plate gets filled for you, in a moment of weakness against rule two, you can hope you are visiting with another foreigner (especially male, or a girl who is an eating champion). The next time the host leaves the room take the opportunity to give a large portion of your food to your friend.

Number Four: If you are eating from a common plate you must learn how to rearrange the food so as to look like you have eaten a lot. This can be done by slowly pushing food to the middle.

Number Five: After just a few minutes start announcing how full you are (even if you are still hungry), by the time your host finally stops insisting that you eat a little more you will have reached the painfully full point. If you don’t start announcing it soon enough you will have to eat a lot more.

These are my rules of survival. Yet despite the long hours of trial and error I have put into developing them, I still went to bed feeling almost sick yesterday. I visited a few of my friend’s homes and by the end of the day I knew I had eaten a weeks worth of food. Oh well I tried.

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