So lately I seem to have a deep affinity for everything hailing from south of the Mason Dixon Line, like Deviled Quail Eggs, Fried Okra, and even Key Lime Cupcakes. Think I’m a little homesick? Maybe.

There are a lot of things I miss about living in the States. I miss the blue sky, especially on days like today, and I miss the friendly people. It’s not that the sky is never blue here and that the people are curmudgeonly, but living here – not just visiting – calls these two lifestyles into stark contrast.

I remember when I first considered a trip to Beijing. My school was encouraging studying abroad in China, and they handed out a packet of information about the academic program there. I laughed when I saw a section about culture shock and laughed even harder when I saw the section about reverse culture shock. But having been here for almost three years now, I am acutely aware of both phenomenons.

If you want to get a waiter’s attention in the States, you quietly signal with your hand, or make eye contact. If you want to get a waiter’s attention in China, even in some of the nicer restaurants, you raise your voice and loudly call “Fuwuyan!” It took a very long time for this Southern girl raised with delicate manners to get used to that little China-ism. It’s the Chinese equivalent of some haughty diner calling, “Garcon!” except not only is it tolerated, but it is actually encouraged.

This is just one example of the huge cultural divide. The Chinese also feel it is acceptable to ask any question that they’re curious about. How much do you make? I find that while I am meekly mannered in the States, hardly confrontational, living in China has roughened my edges. I too holler for the fuwuyan.

Walker always jokes that living in China has made our once impeccable table manners, taught to us by strict mothers and at cotillions, loosen considerably. China has turned us into loud soup slurping, slouching diners – at least in Chinese restaurants (neither of us yet has had the gall to behave poorly at a nice Western restaurant). When I catch either of us at it, I get pangs of homesickness for the South. The get-those-elbows-off-the-table moments teach people manners – not some arbitrary set of rules which are only annoyances, but a set of practices that help you make the people you interact with comfortable.

And so I offer up a traditional Southern meal for dinner, to savor with a sense of well-mannered Southern propriety or to gobble it all up. As long as you enjoy it, eating a delicious and healthy meal with those dear to you (who will surely forgive a little mmm-ing and aaahh-ing) is surely more important than remembering which fork to use first.

Shrimp and Grits

Ingredients

3/4 cup yellow stone-ground grits
3 cups milk
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
8 rashers (pieces) of bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch lardons
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
chives, to your taste

Preparation

1. In a medium saucepan, bring milk to a boil. Stir in the grits, and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until si lky, about 10 minutes. Do remember to give it a stir every once in a while so that the grits don’t form one thick mass and the milk doesn’t scortch. Once most of the moisture is absorbed, stir in the cheese to melt.

2. As the grits start cooking, heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Toss in the bacon, and stir until fat begins to render. Add in the onions, and saute until tender, then toss in shrimp. Season with salt and pepper, and cook 4 to 5 minutes, or until shrimp turn pink. Stir shrimp mixture into grits, setting a few aside for presentation. Garnish with some snipped chives and some of the shrimp, and give it a good twist of fresh ground black pepper. Serve hot.

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