For a variety of reasons, sometimes my comfort zone shrinks to below acceptable levels. At times like these, I have to make a conscious effort to do things that make me a little uncomfortable.
And so it was that when a certain Saturday rolled around and friends asked me about doing dim sum for lunch, I grimaced inwardly, got annoyed briefly (because they forgot I said once, long ago, that I was not a big fan), and then said: "Ok." I said ok because I had not seen these friends in a while, and that's not a very fine way to answer a weekend lunch invitation, with a childish "oh no, not that." I assuaged my grumpiness by taking advantage of my early arrival to sit and do something I am very comfortable doing: research. I read this article -- among others -- that compared the ritual and tradition of it all to Spanish tapas and, better yet, explained the major groups of dishes I would be seeing on those trolleys.
You might say, GM: How can it be that you cannot like dim sum? What can be more delightful than a leisurely Saturday with the charming ritual of servers coming by at warp speed offering an array of dishes in cute little stacked up high bamboo steamers? Well, I will tell you why.
First, I cannot eat with chopsticks gracefully. Correction: I cannot eat quickly or efficiently with chopsticks. Dim sum without chopsticks is weird. I feel very dorky, out of place, like everyone is staring at me, when I am jabbing at things with my fork.
Even if you resort to a fork, like I do, there is no knife. So I am stuck with cutting those meat things with a spoon and a fork, as well as that shrimp thing inside the large mushroom cap, with a spoon. It is not pleasant. Nor is it pretty. I am reduced to feeling like the inarticulate toddler, banging on the tray of the high chair with frustration that she cannot say any of the right words to get the food she wants, if she even knew what that was.
Second, I don't know the dishes well. This means I don't know what food is coming when, am concerned that I will waste money on saying, in a panic when decision time comes because other hungry people are waiting for that trolley to come by, "uh, yea, sure, ok" to a dish I have no idea what it is, but I had better get something now because I do not know what is coming next or when.
Third, related to the above-referenced second point, there is that quick decision-making notwithstanding not knowing what is coming when, and the stress of making a quick decision, yes or no, to a dish or three or four. And then sometimes I feel a little guilty when I say no. Like I'm rejecting their wares. I am getting better at this: I have no problem waving off those chicken feet.
But something funny happened this go-around. I admitted out loud (again) my issues. Namely, that the whole ritual stresses me out: when will I get something I want to eat, as I am starving? When will someone come by with something I like? Admitting a problem is the first step to overcoming it. And so it was with this Saturday with dim sum. I, without shame, picked up that spoon and that fork and enjoyed what turned out to be a lucky order of the trolleys arriving, all in short order with steamers of the things I now know I really like: pretty much any dumpling or potsticker will do for me. I dipped everything I had (with my fork) so many times into that chili oil that we had to get seconds and thirds.
As I still struggled (again) with the meat item -- ribs maybe? -- that everyone else was loving, I noticed a darling family walk in. Mom, dad, two precious very little girls. I took in the nifty outfit the mom was wearing for a Saturday in Austin: ankle-length chiffon pleated cream-colored skirt, mustard yellow crocheted sleeveless sweater. Anthropologie hip vintage NYC-style. The next impressive thing was her effortless, rapid-fire skill with the chopsticks, for herself and as she helped serve her very little one sitting in her lap. I mentally compared this 18-month-old having dim sum with her hip, well-dressed mom to my serving my son McNuggets picked up after work on the way home with him from day care in our Houston days.
I consoled myself by reminding myself that there was no dim sum in San Angelo when I was growing up there. At least I don't think so.
Anyway, on this day of dim sum, armed with some research and a bold resolve to just use the fork without shame, before I knew it, I was full. Could not even partake of that last dish of Chinese broccoli or even bring myself to have half of the remaining potsticker.
Added bonus for getting out of the comfort zone that day. That well-dressed woman with some pretty intense skills with the chopsticks? International superstar violinist, "one of the greatest violinists of our time," Anne Akiko Meyers, who paid $3.6 million at auction for the Molitor Stradivarius, dated 1697, once purportedly owned by Napoleon Bonaparte, a record-breaking price at the time, and now has on exclusive lifetime loan to her one of the most iconic violins ever created: the 'Ex-Vieuxtemps' Guarneri Del Gesu, dated 1741, as this video piece shows on her [Anne Akiko Meyers] web site.
I have ordered her new CD-- Air: the Bach Album -- and I also am actually looking forward to dim sum again.
I may even pick up those chopsticks next time. I will never handle them as elegantly as "one of the greatest violinists of our time," but if I can move away from using the spoon as a cutting implement, that is some serious progress.