The Christiane Chronicles: When it comes to scissors, Korean restaurants have it right

Plus: The problem with tea at Chinese restaurants
Christiane Chronicles

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Getting snippy with it
There are perhaps a hundred Korean restaurants in the Atlanta area, and at almost all of them, servers matter-­of-factly use scissors. They may, with a couple of tableside snips, divide a strip of barbecued beef into juicy bites or slice through an impossible tangle of elastic buckwheat noodles. When I’m having trouble finding a manageable piece of pork neck at Yet Tuh off Buford Highway, what emerges from the kitchen? Scissors.

Scissors can slice, trim, or neaten up pretty much anything, yet outside of Korean restaurants, you rarely see them in the dining room. Why? Perhaps because Koreans value speed and practicality above all, and, unlike other Asian cultures, hold no superstitions about cutting through long strands of noodles.

Sometimes I even convince my server to hand over the shears. Few tasks excite me more than working a pair of nickel-plated scissors with pastel handles, the norm in Korean dining rooms. I love the squishy noise the scissors make when they easily pass through a slippery slice of pork belly. And the most valued piece of cabbage kimchi, the core, would be impossible to eat were it not for this deliciously utilitarian tool.

Bad brew
The good thing about tea in Chinese restaurants: It’s usually free. The bad thing about tea in Chinese restaurants: It’s usually awful.

I can hardly tell whether what I’m drinking is black, oolong, or a combination of the two, but I recognize low-grade jasmine tea by its obnoxious perfume. I no longer ask questions about the stuff that appears in a metal pot with a fine white cord dangling beyond its lip. That tells me there’s a cheap bag containing little more than tea dust within.

You see, the Chinese don’t go to restaurants to drink fine tea; they go to tea houses. Although most prefer having a hot beverage when they dine out, they drink it as mindlessly as we drink water. If Chinese customers really care about tea quality, they bring their own. Restaurateurs, then, have zero incentive to serve a top-grade product. Two local exceptions: Bo Bo Garden in Gwinnett carefully steeps delicate chrysanthemum tea that suits its mild Cantonese food, and, also in Gwinnett, Lz Ramen (which, despite its name, specializes in hand-pulled Chinese noodles) serves strong, ruddy hong cha (red tea) in tall ceramic mugs.

This article originally appeared in our March 2017 issue.