You know, the meal reminds me of family, the good and the bad, and connection. I’m a bit of an introvert, you know that, so these family gatherings were a pain in the butt… especially as a child and was expected to be seen but not heard. The expectation to behave, hah! But the shared stories, the laughter round the table, the philosophical discussions, us kids trying so hard to be good but failing abysmally. They are what I still long for sometimes, to know where I fully belong, to have no miscommunication due to cultural factors, to be accepted for who I am – despite the inevitable well-meaning advice of the elders at the time. I like family. That’s what steamboat symbolizes to me.
It’s basically fondue except with broth. Imagine this – the soup is bubbling in a large pot which is placed at the centre of the round table. By the way, part of the gathering also was the opportunity for me to hear the stories of old, the myths influencing our culture – I loved those stories and still do. But I digress – back to the meal. A selection of seafood, meat and vegetables were prepared – cut up in chunks or thinly sliced like carpaccio. Raw, there were placed on the table. Each person was then able to make their selection of foods, and to cook them in the boiling broth in the pot. We have it here though not common, actually I think it’s called hotpot here.
There was always an air of excitement about the process – from preparation to cooking to even clean-up. A buzz as everyone chips in. The men arranging the table and chairs, the kids helping with utensils and setting the table, the women preparing the food… That togetherness was, and is still important to me – now, I love seeing my kids and their cousins interacting, having fun… The round table meant community to me. Sometimes there were so many of us we had to take turns at the table, did not bother us at all. We were otherwise occupied with chatting, discussing and philosophizing, playing card or board games…
So I guess whenever I have steamboat now – and it’s often, I do so in the spirit of family, community, connection, belonging and fun.