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some food customs in China [Copy link] 中文

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China has so many distinctive food customs. It is not only the flavors of Chinese food but also the good wishes behind them that appeal to people around the world.


Chinese New Year's Eve foods

The night before the Spring Festival is traditionally called "New Year's Eve". Several special traditions are associated with the New Year's Eve feast. First, it is a time when the entire family gathers together. Whether the meal is cooked and eaten at home or enjoyed at a restaurant, all members of the family, old and young, male and female, attend the feast. A place setting is prepared at the table for any family members who are unable to get home for the holidays, symbolically filling their place in the family circle. Because it serves to bring the family together, the New Year's Eve feast is also called the Reunion Feast.

Second, the New Year's Eve feast includes a wide variety of delicious foods and drinks. After working hard all year, people can finally relax with their families and enjoy life. In some regions, it is traditional to drink a special kind of liquor, tushujiu, steeped with herbs, which is said to provide protection against disease in the coming year.

Third, the food served at the New Year's Eve feast has rich symbolic meaning. The dishes definitely include fish and chicken, because their Chinese names are homonyms for "abundance" and "good luck." In Taiwan, it is traditional to eat fish spheres (like meatballs, but made out of fish), whose round shape symbolizes the family circle and family reunions. The name for Chinese leek is a homonym for "a long time", so dishes made with Chinese leeks are eaten to symbolize long life. Turnips are another popular New Year's dish, because their name in Fujian dialect is a homonym for "good omen."

And of course, on New Year's Eve everyone must eat jiaozi, boiled dumplings.

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Kitchen God Festival foods
The Minor New Year's Day, or the 23rd day of the twelfth lunar month of each year, is a day for offering sacrifices to the kitchen god and for thorough cleaning.

It is believed that on the 23rd day of the twelfth lunar month every year, the kitchen god goes to heaven and reports the good or evil deeds of every family to the Jade Emperor, who will then reward or punish the people accordingly. So, the Minor New Year's Day is also called the Kitchen God Festival.

One of the traditions on Minor New Year's Day is eating barley candies. Barley candies are melted with fire and applied to the mouth of the kitchen god. Thus, he will not say bad things to the Jade Emperor. In some areas, it is a custom to eat baked wheaten cakes, sugar cakes and deep-fried dough cakes and to drink bean curd soup.

People living in north China also eat dumplings on the festival, and the Chinese in the south usually begin preparing niangao for the coming Spring Festival.

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Laba Festival foods

The laba Festival, which falls on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, marks the official start of the Spring Festival.

The two most important traditions associated with laba Festival are eating laba porridge, and praying for peace and good health in the coming year.

Filled with nuts and dried fruit, laba porridge serves as a symbol of good fortune, long life, and fruitful harvest. Buddhist tradition equates porridge with good fortune. Friends, family, and neighbors customarily exchange gifts of Laba porridge to express good wishes. In the past, devout Buddhists presented gifts of laba porridge to the emperor and local officials. It can be seen that laba porridge was a favorite holiday gift not only among the rulers and bureaucracy of feudal China, but also in every strata of society.

The custom of eating laba porridge is not only an expression of respect for Buddha and the ancestral spirits. Laba porridge is also a very nourishing and healthful food. It can "increase the life force, produces saliva, nourishe the spleen and stomach, and resolve sweating due to weak constitution at health," according to the encyclopedic classic of herbal medicine Bencao Gangmu, eminent Ming Dynasty physician Li Shizhen.

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Winter Solstice Festival foods

The Winter Solstice is a solar term in Chinese lunar calendar, and a traditional festival as well. It falls on December 22 or 23 (solar calendar) every year. It is the day when the Northern Hemisphere has the shortest daytime and longest nighttime in the whole year. It is a custom to celebrate the arrival of winter solstice, which is regarded as worthy since it is the beginning of a solar term circulation.

In some parts of Northern China, people eat dumplings in the belief it will keep them from frost in the upcoming winter. But, in parts of South China, the whole family will get together to have a meal made of red-bean and glutinous rice to drive away ghosts and other evils.

In other places, people also eat tangyuan, a kind of stuffed small dumpling ball made of glutinous rice flour. The Winter Solstice rice dumplings could be used as sacrifices to ancestors, or gifts for friends and relatives. The Taiwan people even keep the custom of offering nine-layer cakes to their ancestors.

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Double Ninth Festival foods

The 9th day of the 9th lunar month is the traditional Chongyang Festival, or Double Ninth Festival. It usually falls in October in the Gregorian calendar.

Since "nine" is the highest odd digit, people take two of them together to signify longevity. Therefore, the ninth day of the ninth month has become a special day for people to pay their respects to the elderly and a day for the elderly to enjoy themselves. It has also been declared China's Day for the Elderly.

On that day, people will eat Double-Ninth Gao (or Cake), which is also called rice cake with bean paste, chrysanthemum cake, or five-color cake. In Chinese, gao (cake) has the same pronunciation with gao (height). It tastes soft and delicious. If being daintier, people will make the Double-Ninth cake into the shape of a nine-layer pagoda, and some will further insert one piece of red paper flag or candle on the cake.

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Mid-Autumn Festival foods

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, usually in October in Gregorian calendar. The festival is an evening celebration when families stay together to light lanterns, eat moon cakes and appreciate the round moon. On that night, the moon appears to be at its roundest and brightest. The full moon is a symbol for family reunion, which is why that day is also known as the Festival of Reunion.

A moon cake is a delicately-stuffed round cake that is delicious and nice to look at. The cake is often given as a gift between family and friends during the festival to show greetings. A small cake is a carrier of good wishes between family members, the eagerness to join family reunion of those away from home and people's praying for happiness.

Besides mooncakes, lotus root foods, taro, grapefruit, peanut and crabs are often served during the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is also the custom for the Chinese Dai ethnic group living in Yunnan Province to sit around a table drinking and having dinner together during the festival.

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Zhongyuan (Hungry Ghost) Festival foods

July 15 of the lunar calendar is the Zhongyuan (Hungry Ghost) Festival observed by Taoists, and the Ullambana Festival celebrated by Buddhists as well. It is a day to honor the departed spirits of ancestors as well as a festival to pray for safety and show filial piety to parents.

A sacrificial altar and a chair is built for the Buddhist priest either at street entrances or in front of villages. In front of the chair is set the statue of the King of Hell Di Zang. Under it are plates of flour-made rice and peaches. On the sacrificial altar are three spirit tablets and three funeral banners. After noon, pigs, sheep, chicken, geese and cakes, fruits of all kinds donated by households are displayed on the altar. On every sacrificial object the Buddhist priest will put a triangular paper banner of three colors with special characters. After the rite gets started in solemn music, the priest will strike the bell to call back the souls, other monks singing chimes of incantations. Then, he will throw the rice and peaches into the air in all directions to distribute them to the souls.

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