Traditions of Duan Wu
Traditional Food Culture
Duan Wu Festival is a traditional celebration which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month with more than 2000 years of history. The first thing that comes to mind, when we think of traditional foods associated with this festival would be Zong Zi or rice dumplings. However, did you know, that there are many other special seasonal treats to be enjoyed in many different places during this festival? As time passes, these delicious treats may have changed with the passing down of culture and tradition through time. However, even if the taste have changed, the hopes for a stable livelihood and the longing for home embodied within will be ever present.
娘惹传统美食 Traditional Nyonya Bak Chang
The glutinous rice is first dyed a delicate blue using blue pea flower, then the filling is stir fried with local spices. Together with aromatic pieces of meat and candied winter melon, this makes the quintessential sweet and salty bluish tinged Nyonya Bak Chang found only in the Singapore – Malaysian region.
福建闽南“烧肉粽” Fujian Minnan Sio Bak Chang
This is a rice dumpling unique to Quanzhou in Fujian. Mushrooms, dried shrimp, yam cubes, chestnuts, pork (or chicken) and glutinous rice are used as their main ingredients. The glutinous rice is stir fried with braising liquid and pork lard till half cooked, then filled with braised pork, salted egg yolk, fried dried shrimp, chestnuts and so on before they are wrapped with bamboo leaves and cooked to aromatic perfection.
潮汕名吃“双拼粽” Chaoshan Rice Dumpling
In Chaoshan, rice dumplings ‘Zong’ have a similar pronunciation as ‘robust’. Hence, man, woman, young and old will eat rice dumplings for this symbolism during Duan Wu Festival. Chaoshan’s rice dumplings are known for its unique balance of sweet and savory, with fillings of pork, salted egg yolk, sweet red bean paste, peanuts and lotus seeds, which permeates throughout the glutinous rice as they are slowly cooked to enhance the flavour of the dumplings.
广东客家风味“咸肉粽” Cantonese and Hakka Rice Dumplings
Both Cantonese and Hakka rice dumplings have the same main ingredients as the Fujian ones – pork, mushrooms, salted egg yolk and dried shrimp. However the Cantonese will add in some peanut powder and green bean paste, and sometimes even conpoy, dried scallops, Chinese sausage or barbeque pork. The Hakkas on the other hand, will add crushed peanuts, preserved radish, garlic and even red beans.
江浙“五黄餐” Zhejiang ‘Wu Huang Can’
In Hangzhou, Jiaxing and some other places, people practise eating ‘Wu Huang’ or ‘Five Yellow Dish’ during Duan Wu Festival. This dish comprises of five different yellow coloured ingredients like yellow croaker, eel, cucumber, salted egg yolk and realgar wine. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is said that Duan Wu Festival occurs at the time of the year when Yang energy is most prevalent and hence this energy should be harnessed to ward off bad luck and increase vitality.
温州“薄饼” Wenzhou ‘Bo Bing’
In Wenzhou, every family follows the tradition of eating Bo Bing during Duan Wu Festival. A batter is made from flour and pieces of round, thin, translucent crepes are made on a big flat griddle. Beansprouts, Chinese chives, strips of meat, egg and mushrooms are placed on a piece of crepe and rolled up into a cylindrical shape, with each bite giving you multiple layers of flavour that fully saturates your taste buds.
江西“立蛋” Jiangxi ‘Li Dan’
In Jiangxi, there is a custom of eating tea eggs and salted eggs during Duan Wu Festival. They also like to dye cooked eggs a red colour and put them in colourful mesh bags, then hang them around the necks of little children to ward off bad luck and keep them safe.
Customs of Duan Wu
Duan Wu Festival is one of the four major traditional celebrations in China that combines prayers, entertainment and food in one. In September 2009, Duan Wu Festival became the first Chinese festival to be officially inscribed by UNESCO into the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.
How much do you know about the rich traditions of Duan Wu Festival?
扒龙舟 Dragon boat racing
A race whereby a team made of many crew paddle to the finish, dragon boat racing is a very important part of Duan Wu Festival. It began as a ceremonial totem worship of the Dragon and is still popular in the southern coastal parts of our country. This totem worship is said to prevent the occurrence of floods.
拜神祭祖 Ancestral worship
Ancestral worship is a form of filial piety, which dictates that genuflection to one’s ancestors, Heaven, Earth and the Gods should be carried out in exchange for and in appreciation of their blessings and protection.
挂艾草与菖蒲 Hanging of Mugwort and Calamus
It is believed that Mugwort has the ability to ward off evil and bring good fortune. Hence hanging of Mugwort on doors become common practice and a custom associated with Duan Wu. This is still being practiced in many places in the North and South.
放纸鸢 Kite Flying
In the south, kite flying is also a custom associated with Duan Wu Festival. Made by gluing paper or silk onto frames made of bamboo strips, lengths of string are attached to these contraptions and flown into the air by harnessing the forces of the wind through understanding of aerodynamics.
画额 Drawing on forehead
The custom of dabbing children’s foreheads with realgar is supposed to be effective in warding off poisonous insects. This is typically done by writing the Chinese character representing ‘King’ on their foreheads with realgar wine.
打午时水 Drawing of water at noon
The tradition of drawing water at noon is a popular custom practiced in areas along the northern coast. Water drawn from wells between 11am to 1pm on Duan Wu Festival was considered to be very auspicious, which is most effective for warding off evil.
栓五色丝线 Tying of five-coloured bracelets
In ancient china, the five colours were highly revered as they are considered to represent auspiciousness. During Duan Wu Festival, families use red, yellow, blue, green and purple threads to make five-coloured bracelets which are worn on children’s wrists to ward off evil, plague and misfortune.
避五毒 Warding off the Five Poisons
Duan Wu Festival was considered a day of poison in ancient time by the people in northern China, which gave rise to the practice of warding off the five poisons – namely the centipede, the snake, the scorpion, the lizard and the toad. In essence, it was a reminder for people to take precaution against diseases during Duan Wu Festival.