Sharing food is an interesting topic that I’ve been meaning to explore. Some people like it and some people don’t. Notably, most of my Asian friends like sharing compared to my Caucasian friends.

This post will explore some thoughts and ideas on this.

(Header image features platter from Platterful, a catering service which used to run in Manchester)

Growing up

I’m a British Born Chinese (BBC) so have grown up eating predominantly the food of two cultures. I’ve long been a fan of sharing food and do it often with family. Chinese dishes were always placed across the entire table, and you simply helped yourself from the selection. Of course, not every meal at home was served this way, but usually, when this was the case, my bowl or plate mimicked everyone else’s. It was only when I started eating out that I became aware that not everyone wants to share their food.

Different cultures?

Dim sum from Tattu

Dim sum from Tattu

The idea of sharing food appears to be more utilised in Asian countries, but not exclusively so. Mezzes and tapas can also be consumed by gathering the plates in the middle and sampling from all the dishes. A traditional Christmas meal would sometimes see the extras like potatoes, vegetables and sauces put in the middle so you can take more of what you like. Perhaps the idea that food is rarely shared means that it can be seen as an odd idea when eating out.

With my East Asian friends, asking if they’d like to share is not an unusual question. For example, if I am eating with one other person, what usually happens is that we both order what we would like to eat. If they are both the same, we would state our second choice and then order one of those. Depending on the place we’re eating in, we either take a portion of what is in our plate and move it to the other plate or eat half and then swap. The first option allows us to keep what we have ordered but in some cases, make swaps if we prefer the other’s meal.

Balance of flavours

Dim sum from Yum Cha in Hong Kong

Dim sum from Yum Cha in Hong Kong

I hypothesise that for many East Asian countries, the balance of flavours is very important in our meals; the Yin and Yang. If one dish was oily or fried, we’d insist on having something that’s cleaner in flavour to counter it, such as a salad or lightly steamed vegetables. Too much of one type of thing wouldn’t be good, e.g. too much salt, too many carbs etc.

This is something that affects the way I eat too. For example, when someone just orders one thing at a Chinese takeaway, I find it a bit odd as you are just consuming one flavour then, and I personally get bored with that. It’d be like just having the roast meat from a Christmas dinner and nothing else. Even if not sharing a group order, I would pick at least two things with different flavours and save the extras for another night.

You will often see me adding a side dish of additional vegetables when I eat out. I have also been known to order the salad dish and then order a small portion of a meatier dish to usually add a salty element to the meal.

Why I like to share

I’ve always enjoyed eating all types of food and there’s very little I don’t enjoy. I attribute much of this to my upbringing eating western food from the school canteen and then eating my parent’s Chinese cooking at home. This coupled with indecisiveness means there are normally several dishes on a menu that I want to try. Sharing food allows me to eliminate this as I’m able to sample the other dishes without making multiple visits. Better for the pocket too.

But it’s mine

Food spread from Nasi Lemak street food

Food spread from Nasi Lemak street food

Ok, so I am aware of the benefits of not sharing. You get to actually eat what you have ordered and if you know what you like, that’s good. Moreso if you don’t care for what other people have ordered. I can especially sympathise with those who have dietary requirements as your options are usually more limited. I understand and I’m not going to push you, either. If anything, my desire to share food usually prompts me to order something that my eating companion would also like. Finding time to catch up with people is hard and the act of sharing food adds that additional social interaction which I personally enjoy.

Hope this has given you food for thought. What are your thoughts on sharing food?