A few days ago, I bought a blank apron from Ikea. Yesterday, I got a bottle of white fabric paint.
Today, I decided to combine my love for cooking with my love for everything Chinese. How? By doing calligraphy on the apron itself!
Here’s how it looks!
I originally intended to write out a passage from the Doctrine of the Mean (中庸), but I realised that the passage I wanted was VERY VERY long (about 60+ words). Here’s the passage if you’re curious:
天 命之謂性，率性之謂道，修道之謂教。道也者，不可須臾離也，可離非道也。是故君子戒慎乎其所不睹，恐懼乎其所不聞。莫見乎隱，莫顯乎微。故君子慎其獨 也。喜怒哀樂之未發，謂之中；發而皆中節，謂之和；中也者，天下之大本也；和也者，天下之達道也。致中和，天地位焉，萬物育焉。
What Heaven has conferred is called The Nature; an accordance with this nature is called The Path of duty; the regulation of this path is called Instruction. The path may not be left for an instant. If it could be left, it would not be the path. On this account, the superior man does not wait till he sees things, to be cautious, nor till he hears things, to be apprehensive. There is nothing more visible than what is secret, and nothing more manifest than what is minute. Therefore the superior man is watchful over himself, when he is alone. While there are no stirrings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, or joy, the mind may be said to be in the state of Equilibrium. When those feelings have been stirred, and they act in their due degree, there ensues what may be called the state of Harmony. This Equilibrium is the great root from which grow all the human actings in the world, and this Harmony is the universal path which they all should pursue. Let the states of equilibrium and harmony exist in perfection, and a happy order will prevail throughout heaven and earth, and all things will be nourished and flourish.
[The Doctrine of the Mean (中庸), trans. James Legge, 1]
In the end, I scrapped the plan and wrote my favourite word, 和 (he). I spoke a bit about this word before (see this post). It would actually be cooler to write 道 (tao) instead, but 和 (he) is very apt for cooking. How so?
I learnt from one of my lectures on Chinese heritage that the Chinese have a philosophy in food. Everything about Chinese cuisine revolves around the concept of 和, i.e. harmony.
What’s central to Chinese cuisine is that the chef must aim to attain harmony. Mainly, he seeks that harmony with the ingredients, so as to attain a perfect harmony in the various tastes. Certain dishes are cooked at certain times of the year because of the harmony with the seasons. The people eating the food are taken into account as well because Chinese food should be in harmony with our bodies, or more precisely, with our constitutions, so that we do not fall sick easily, but gain strength and health through the food we eat.
While these elements may be present in other cultures’ cuisine, it’s only the Chinese culture that places a huge emphasis on this. That is why, when you compare a Chinese dish with a typical Western meal, the Chinese dish usually involves a perfect mix of all kinds of ingredients – meat, vegetables, etc. – into one plate/bowl. In a typical Western meal, the various items are distinctly seperated. You have a plate for the meats, a bowl for the salads, and a seperate plate/bowl for the rice/potato/pasta.
I suppose it has to do with the centrality of the concept of the t’ai chi in Chinese thought. That different things can still constitute a single unity, just as yin and yang are distinct, yet one. This is perhaps why only in Chinese cuisine do we have dishes such as Sweet and Sour Pork/Chicken/Fish. Here we have two very distinct and seemingly contrary flavours, and yet, these two flavours can happily co-exist together as a dish. How? Because of the idea of 和 (harmony): sweet and sour can exist in harmony with each other without one having to overpower the other.
Just as how the chef aims to attain harmony in his cooking, so too does the virtuous gentleman (in Confucianism) aim to act in a way that achieves this harmony with everyone and everything. It is not easy at first. But like cooking, the gentleman can learn through constant practice, to attain that beautiful harmony.