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The Greatest Communal Meals Around the World

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Food really matters. It’s the only thing that brings us all together and keeps us both sustained and happy (and no, love doesn’t do that). In fact, food and meals are so important, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a culture that doesn’t have at least one example of a communal dining experience in which one dish is featured that everyone around the table shares. Don’t even start thinking about fondue. It’s time to step up your communal meals game.

Luckily, being in the food wonderland of the Bay Area means you can find most of these dishes pretty easily.

Dim Sum

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Y’all. Dim sum is the only reason why I get up some Sundays. Traditionally, it’s more of a brunch thing but since we live in the Bay Area, you can have it pretty much all the time. I love it all, from the tiny storefronts where you yell your orders while pointing to giant vats to a la carte dinners where you try to remember what the name of that little pocket thing filled with shrimp is to that most glorious of all: dim sum carts. Hot, fresh little dumpling babies are delivered to you in gleaming carts. Side note, the Lunar New Year is February 8th and that’s when the extra special dim sum dishes come out. Try the pan-fried brown rice cakes for dessert (“neen gao”), because that’s the only good time to get them. Check out this rad cookbook if you want to make some yourself.

Raclette

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Raclette is like opposite fondue. You’ve got a hot grill where you put your meat and vegetables. When they’ve cooked through, you put them in little paddles and cover them with cheese. Those paddles go underneath the grill to bubble up and get gooey. I dare you to find something unappealing about that. So, ok, it’s hard to find someone with a raclette operation (aka better start hanging out with some Swiss/French people because no restaurant does this) but this is going to make fondue seem like child’s play. It may seem like I hate fondue. I don’t, it’s still great. But raclette makes fondue look weak. Check out this rad cookbook if you want to make some yourself.

Ethiopian

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Some meals are meant to be messy and are better for it. The combination of savory stewed vegetables, meats, and spongey injera bread means your hands are going to get dirty and that’s ok. Because if you try to eat this with a fork, you will and should be judged. This type of cuisine isn’t native only to Ethiopia, but is eaten in Eritrea, Ghana, Sudan, and Somalia. In fact, it even extends to Yemen because it’s just a good idea. When have you ever been like, “nope, don’t wish I had something to mop up all this delicious sauce with”? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Check out this rad cookbook if you want to make some yourself.

Korean BBQ

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I hear that in South Korea, there are any number of spas where you can get a real nice sweat going in a steam room and then head into another room to eat grilled meat with the same wood chips that were used to create the steam room heat. That seems like something we desperately need in the US. If you’ve never had Korean BBQ, you cannot begin to understand the heavenly mixture of textures and flavors at play. Plus, there’s fire involved. All you have to do is grilled the thin pieces of meat and stick them in a lettuce wrap with all your banchan fixings…or stick it in your mouth. Whatever. Also, try to get yogurt soju if you can. I promise, you will not regret it. Check out this rad cookbook if you want to make some yourself.

Hot Pot

Modern Asian Hotpot Dining Experience

First, please let me break this down for you: yes, I know it looks like fondue. It is not exactly fondue. Yes, this is the Chinese version and the spicy kind is called Szechuan hot pot. Yes, it is different than the Japanese shabu-shabu. It is also different than the Thai lok lok, although the skewers seem like a good idea and I’d be so down for it in general if we had it here. Chinese hot pot is amazingly fun and cheap…if you do it at home. There are any number of restaurants you can do this in but I promise if you just get a propane burner, a pot, and a trip to 99 Ranch Market, you won’t spend more than $10 per person to eat one of the best meals of your life. I would, however, suggest you find a Chinese person to help. I am available and will consult only if you buy the fish balls that have lobster eggs in them. I may also require a jug of rice liquor and I don’t mean sake. Check out this rad cookbook if you want to make some yourself.

Paella

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Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that only Spain has real paella. That’s stupid. You just need a proper pan and some patience to make world-class paella and there are indeed some restaurants here that do it right. When paella is great, it is a symphony of desires to comfort and soothe you into a blissful dream state. You’ll feel like one of those pigeons who might explode on the street, but in a good way. Also, have you ever seen those guys who do the monstrously large paellas at the food cart rallies? I want to be best friends with them so they will give me extra prawns. Check out this rad cookbook if you want to make some yourself.

Pizza

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So, I feel like I don’t have to explain why pizza is delicious.

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Candace Cui - Actual Unicorn

Candace Cui - Actual Unicorn

At age 2, I was getting run over by a bike in an alley in China. At age 8, I was avoiding man-o-wars on Tybee Island. At age 14, I was overdrinking sweet tea while running through the woods barefoot. At age 20, I was learning Art History and how to drop it low. At age 25, I was making fun of drum circles at Dolores. At every age, I am charming the fuck out of you. Just wait, it'll happen.