The menu should have come with pencils for circling choices. Beneath each course were three oh-so-diplomatic options. Starters featured a prawn cocktail served with avocado salad, a steakhouse staple POTUS would probably be reassured to see; Korean stuffed cucumbers; and green mango kerabu with honey-lime dressing and fresh octopus. Kerabu, a staple of Malay cuisine, is a refreshing salad judged by the balance of sweet, sour, salty and hot notes in the dressing.
BBC News reported that the stuffed cucumbers, or oiseon, caused some raised eyebrows among Koreans, given the dish’s royal origins. “It’s a bit like the British prime minister sitting down to dine with a visiting dignitary and chowing down on a roasted swan — a favourite of Henry VIII,” the news outlet declared.
Wherever Trump and Asian leaders meet, beef is sure to be in the picture. Over a round of golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last November, hamburgers were served. On a trip to China last year, Trump’s hosts seemed to be appealing to his affection for steak with ketchup when he was offered “stewed beef steak in tomato sauce.”
Sure enough, beef, as in short rib confit, was one of three main course selections. The entree was rounded out with steamed broccolini (doctor’s orders, maybe, since Trump is said to be dieting?) and potato dauphinois, a fancier way to say potatoes au gratin, a Trump favorite. Both leaders can get around spuds. Kim, who as a teenager studied abroad in Switzerland, is said to have developed a fondness for rosti, the country’s famous potato pancakes.
In deference to Trump, a teetotaler, the beef’s red wine sauce was listed as “on the side.” (Kim, who has retained both Japanese sushi and Italian pizza makers, reportedly has a fondness for fine French wines.)
The alternate entrees were soy-braised cod with Asian vegetables and sweet-and-sour pork with Yangzhou fried rice flavored with XO chile sauce. Was the fried rice a sly way to find a spot for China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, at the table? Kim arrived in the city/state aboard a Boeing 747 operated by Air China. Multiple news sources said he brought along some of his own food and even a toilet.
Dessert — the course with the power to leave a last impression — was decidedly Western. Choices included a dark chocolate tartlet; the cream- or custard-filled brioche called Tropezienne; and vanilla ice cream with cherry coulis. The scoops came from Haagen-Dazs, the only designer label flagged on the menu. Presumably, Trump didn’t get his preferred double helping of ice cream.
Video of guests gathering for the lunch shows pre-plated starters on a rectangular table lined down the center with soothing green- and cream-colored flowers. While Singapore was the facilitating host, Trump appeared to take command, asking photographers: “Getting a good picture everybody? So we look nice and handsome and thin? Perfect.”
Getting to “perfect,” or close to it, involves teams from both sides identifying the preferences and steering clear of the dislikes of the principals, says Peter Selfridge, who served as U.S. chief of protocol during the last three years of the Obama administration. Reached for comment, the former ambassador said via email, “At first glance, it looks like rather than having to decide on one main dish that would appease both [palates] — a difficult task under normal conditions — they chose to offer something for everyone, while also giving a nod to the flavors of the host country.”
Selfridge called the summit lunch, which brought together 13 principals from both delegations, “a little unexpected,” given the early stage of the talks between the two world leaders. Then again, he said, “sharing a meal goes a long way to breaking the ice.”
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