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Mouthfeel: Cheow and Faa

Tempting textures that increase our appreciation of Chinese food

The audible crunch of spring rolls and golden triple-cooked chips.

The anticipatory quiver of a perfectly jubbly panna cotta.

The velvety softness of slow roasted meat that slips unreservedly off the bone before melting in your mouth…

If food porn extended to the literary world as erotic food fiction, the most seductive characters would surely be those that tempt us with their sensual textures.

Growing up in a Chinese family, we quickly learned that our food culture was about revering textures and sensations in the mouth just as much as appreciating great flavour. It isn’t highbrow stuff at all; it is simply a pleasurable and conscious part of the eating experience.

Our dinner table conversations are constantly peppered with descriptions of hau gum, which literally means ‘mouthfeel’. The best meals are those that elicit several appreciative murmurs of how satisfyingly faa, lum and so on certain dishes are. In fact, we have an entire vocabulary dedicated to describing the different textural properties of food, and sometimes it is the texture rather than the flavour that really makes a dish or ingredient stand out.  We want to spread the word about mouthfeel because we think that being alive to the joy of different textures can rocket a love for food to the next level.

While there isn’t always an equivalent English term for the various categories of mouthfeel, the textures and sensations are universal and recognisable in many of the foods that we eat every day. Draw from our guide the next time you eat something with an especially enjoyable or surprising texture, and soon you too will be nonchalantly dropping the terms during meals with friends and family.

(Bok Bok) Cheow

When something is cheow it has excellent crunch. And when something is *extra* crunchy, you can simply add the onomatopoeic prefix bok bok to denote that a superior level of crispiness has been achieved.

Cheow-ness is less likely to be an inherent attribute of an ingredient – when something is cheow it is usually a result of the way in which it was cooked. For example, one could say that a primary aim of deep-frying is to produce a cheow end product. Spring rolls, pork crackling, tempura batter and grissini sticks are all at their best when they are cheow. On the flip side, it is disappointing times indeed when things that are supposed to be cheow are soggy, soft or chewy instead. Stale Pringles, anyone?

Faa

The best way to describe this mouthfeel in familiar English terminology is to say that it means ‘melt-in-the-mouth’. Faa foods are often rich and therefore a bit closer to the top of the food pyramid. They can also sometimes be delicate enough in structure to collapse at the slightest touch of your tongue.

In our experience, eating something that is faa is likely to cause closed eyes and a deep, protracted ‘mmmmm’. Think chocolate mousse, creamy fudge, the yolk of a boiled egg, very short shortbread and buttery mashed potato.

Mouthfeel Mash-Up: Cheow x Faa

It is entirely possible for foodstuffs to possess more than one mouthfeel. The humble potato chip, for example, can be the ideal embodiment of something that is both cheow and faa. We all know what it’s like to munch into the perfect fry, with its crunchy, golden shell giving way to fluffy, melty potato. Fried sticks of potato have to be one of the most delightful and universally-loved foods ever – and as much as they taste terrific, we reckon that it’s the perfect juxtaposition of a cheow and faa mouthfeel that really seals the deal.

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