Essential Knowledge 11: Tableware (器具須知)

古語云︰「美食不如美器。」斯語是也。然宣、成、嘉、萬,窯器太貴,頗愁損傷,不如竟用御窯,已覺雅麗。惟是宜碗者碗,宜盤者盤,宜大者大,宜 小者小,參錯其間,方覺生色。若板板於十碗八盤之說,便嫌笨俗。大抵物貴者器宜大,物賤者器宜小。煎炒宜盤,湯羹宜碗,煎炒宜鐵鍋,煨煮宜砂罐。

List of Essential Knowledge::Tableware
The ancients said: “Good food cannot match good tableware.”, indicating the importance in choosing one’s bowls and dishes. However tableware from the reign of Xuan de, Cheng hua, Jia jing, Wan li [1] are so precious that it leaves one anxious and nervous of breaking them during use. One would rather use contemporary tableware fired from the imperial kilns, which are at once refined and beautiful. Note that foods more suited for bowls should be served in bowls, food suited for plates served in plates, large food items served in larger tableware, and smaller foods served in smaller tableware. Thus even when there are gross shortcomings in a banquet, the table’s setting would still feel coordinated and delightful [2]. If one blindly insists on adhering to the traditional “Ten bowls and eight dishes” in a banquet instead of considering how best to serve the food, others might suspect one of being dull-witted. Expensive food items should typically be served in larger tableware, while more common foods can be served on small tableware. Pan-fried or stir-fried foods are best served on plates, and soups and stews served in bowls. Pan-fried or stir-fried foods are best prepared in iron woks, while stewed foods are best prepared in clay pots.

Random notes:

[1]: In dynastic times years were dictated as the “Something-th year of Some-emperor” and the reign of an emperor used to denote a historic period. Yi de, Cheng hua, Jia jing, are Wan li were emperors during the Ming dynasty. The tableware from these Ming dynasty periods were already highly valued in Yuan Mei’s time during the Qing dynasty.

[2]: The text “參錯其間,方覺生色” literally means something like “errors and discordance in a (dining) space, the feeling of order and grace.” I’ve taken this mean that even in a bad disordered banquet, the table will still look great with the plates and bowls.


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