Chinese Wedding Foods
Im getting married soon, and hope
youll be able to answer some questions I have.
About one third of the wedding banquet guests are
not Chinese. We would like to give an explanation
on what the various foods represent and why they are
served at banquets. We will be serving: roasted
suckling pig, sharks fin soup, deep fried crab
claws, squab, Peking duck, lobster, vegetables with
sea cucumber, and fish. For dessert we will be have
hot sweet red bean soup and two dumpling-like things
that I dont have names for. The first is a white
and pink peach shaped bun with sweet lotus paste in
the center. The second is a round sticky dumpling
covered with crushed peanuts on the outside and
filled with sweet black sesame paste in the center.
Do you have any ideas what all these foods
represent? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Chinese food has special symbolism: mostly wishes of happiness,
longevity, or fertility. The number of courses is also significant. At a Chinese wedding banquet, eight dishes
are usually served not including the dessert. In Chinese, the word
eight sounds like good luck. (The words for nine and long are also homophones,
words that sound the same but have different meanings. At a birthday banquet,
nine dishes are served with noodles at the end.)
a wedding banquet starts with appetizers such as dragon-phoenix
plates or cold plates which consist of various sliced meats,
jellyfish, and various types of nuts shaped like dragons and phoenixes
and served chilled. (Lobster in Chinese is literally dragon shrimp and in Chinese restaurants, chicken feet are referred to as
phoenix feet). In a marriage, the dragon symbolizes the
male role while the phoenix symbolizes the female role. (See Chinese Wedding Traditions
for additional use of the Dragon and Phoenix symbolism.) This
yin-yang dualism, opposite but not contradictory, is a key concept of taoism according to Professor
George Lee of San Francisco State University. He and others believe
that taoism and the yin-yang dualism prevades Chinese philosophy. Lee
wrote that according to the Black Sect Tantric Buddhism, man and
woman form a family the tao of marriage. Therefore, having lobster
and chicken at the dinner would represent balance in the new
Regarding the specific menu selections you mention:
Sharks Fin Soup. Soup usually follows the appetizers. The type of soup has
some significance, for example, sharks fin soup indicates wealth because this
delicacy is very expensive.
Roast Suckling Pig. Roasted pork is a symbol of virginity. (The
groom presents a whole roasted pork to the brides family at the
Peking Duck and Lobster. Red is the
color for happiness, so serving Peking duck and lobster would signify
joy and celebration. Also, serving the dish whole, i.e. with the
head and legs, would symbolize
Squab (or Other Fowl).
According to Shu Shu Costa, the author of Wild
Geese and Tea, pigeon has tender meat that symbolizes peace. Usually
two pigeons are offered to wish the newlyweds peace as they start
their new life together. Squab (pigeon) is similar to quail, so they both
probably symbolize peace. Quail is offered whole to each guest so
each and every one will also experience a peaceful life. Serving fried chicken would wish the couple
to have a good life because in Chinese red chicken sounds like good
If you want to serve crab, I suggest you serve the whole crab
and not just the claws, which is separated from its other parts. Since
you will serve lobster, I recommend that you replace the crab claws
with fried chicken because of my explanation above. A
typical Chinese banquet usually includes chicken and duck.
Vegetables with Sea Cucumber. Serving sea cucumber with vegetables is a sign of selflessness
because sea cucumber sounds like "good heart and this dish wishes
the couple to think in a similar way to avoid conflict.
Fish. Serving fish
would hope that the couple will experience a life together with
abundance because fish" sounds like plentiful in Chinese.
Noodles served at
the end would symbolize longevity because noodles come in long
Sweet Red Bean Soup and Sweet Buns.
Serving dessert probably wishes the newlyweds a sweet life.
The hot sweet red bean soup should contain
lotus seeds (lian zi) and a bark-like vegetable (bak hop) to wish
the newlyweds a hundred years of togetherness.
The sweet lotus paste in sweetened steamed
bread symbolizes fertility; it is shaped and colored to resemble peaches (ta zi), since the peach represents long life.
The sticky dumpling you describe,
covered with crushed peanuts with black sesame paste in the center, is
called mochi. (You might consider mochi with lotus paste or red bean paste for their symbolic value rather than black sesame paste.)
At the end of the banquet, waiters usually pass out take-out
boxes to the guests because there is usually enough food for everyone
and some left over; this represents abundance. It is acceptable to
take some of the food home because it is not good to waste good food
or anything else for that matter.
Tea, alcohol, and 7-Up are almost
always supplied at a Chinese wedding banquet. Offering tea is a sign
of respect. Alcohol is served to celebrate the special occasion. (In
Chinese, going to a dinner banquet is synonymous to going to drink
alcohol; and in Cantonese, to go drinking literally means go to a
bar.) And 7-Up sounds like seven happiness,, since the words for
up and happiness are homophones.)
You might notice that Chinese
restaurants have a big Chinese character behind the head table; it is
the character for double happiness which is used during wedding
By L. K. Yee
Shu Shu Costa. Wild Geese and Tea:
Asian-American Wedding Planner.
NY: Riverhead Books, 1997
Chinese Wedding Traditions
Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony
CHCP Virtual Library/Museum