September 8, 2018

Food for Thought

I had never seen this unusual looking pastry until I saw the post by @garsleat It’s called “Goji Berry Osmanthus Cake.” If this were made by a Japanese baker, it would likely be a perfect cube. This is a noticeable difference between the two cultures. Now, you might assume that I’m claiming my culture to be superior, but that is not the case. Everything is good and bad depending on how you look at it.

The Chinese and American cultures share the same philosophy about visual aesthetics, that is, the philosophy of “good enough.” Great big countries cannot pay attention to every detail; they have to be concerned about the big picture.

In a small island like Japan, every inch of the land is already accounted for, so they have plenty of time to review and re-review every inch of it. They didn’t invent a pencil, but they are still perfecting it. Their pencils are as perfect as you can imagine but nothing is ever good enough for them. They do not move on.

We see the same difference between French and American bakers. American bakers deliberately make everything look handmade whereas French bakers painstakingly shape their pastries as if they are made by machines. “No fuss” is a proudly American aesthetic.

When I first saw a restaurant sign that said “Home Cooked” or “Home Cooking” I was baffled: “Why would I want to go out to a restaurant to eat a home-cooked meal?” But now I understand this distinctly American philosophy. This country wouldn’t have succeeded as much as it has if everyone was working at the bottom of a well, focused solely on their crafts.

In life, we cannot have everything we want. Life is about making meaningful compromises. If you dream big, you wouldn’t be able to pay attention to all the details. If you pursue perfection, you wouldn’t be able to see the big picture. Between Japan and China, and France and America, we have an ideal division of labor.

#chinesephilosophy #americanphilosophy #chinesebakery #nycfood #nyceats #nycfoodie #gojiberry #osmanthus #chinatownnyc #chinatown