One of the main distinctions between Oriental cooking and other types of cooking, is the attention given to cutting food before it is assembled and cooked. Slicing, dicing, mincing, chopping, slivering, and sectioning are unique features of Oriental cooking. Unless the food is cut right, you may not be able to eat it with chopsticks. So, most firm foods are cut in pieces small enough to be picked up with chopsticks and put into the mouth whole.
Cutting the food correctly is also important to its appearance. Everything is neatly cut. If food is cut into cubes, the cubes are all about the same size. If something is sliced, the slices are all about the same thickness and size. Food is cut in uniformity. If you prepare sweet and sour shrimp, all the food is cut to similar size. The dish would not look right if the green pepper were cut in chunks, the onions in rings, the carrots in strips, the tomatoes in thin wedges and the pineapple diced! It would also not taste right; some of the ingredients would look strange, the large pieces could be undercooked and the small pieces could be overcooked. The neat slices are as important as the food itself.
Most Oriental food looks marvelous because the cooks go to great efforts to please all of the senses. The secret to the marvelous appearance is that the food itself is beautiful.
Color makes a dramatic contribution. Sometimes it is the brilliant contrasting colors of the mixed vegetables. Sometimes it is the texture; the crisp fried coating on a pink shrimp or the smoothness of a steamed bun. Other times the appeal is the action or sound - the red beef strips hitting a hot pan with a sizzle. Sometimes the food's arrangement is so harmonious that you hesitate to disturb it let alone eat it.
Avoid masses of garnish such as scrolls of mashed potatoes, beds of chopped aspic, -masses of chopped parsley, etc. The sprig of parsley, the single maple leaf, a pink-tipped ginger sprout, a dusting of sesame seeds or a sprinkling of colored pickle slivers will enhance the presentation of the food.
Serve the Oriental food in simple, all-white or solid-colored dishes and when serving, remember these small but important tips.
- Arrange the food in an orderly fashion and do not put too much food on the serving dish. A platter heaped high and a bowl filled to the rim, detract from the beauty of the presentation.
- Plenty of the dish should be showing. Learn to satisfy with artistry and beauty not overabundance of food.