Summer in China
Spend your summer in China,
The Dragon Boat Festivalis on the 5th of May according to the lunar calendar, which was the 16th of June this year (2018). The most common origin story of this festival is to commemorate Qu Yuan, a patriotic poet and a loyal official of the Chu Kingdom. He was framed and exiled by his colleague and king first before drowning himself in the river after hearing his country had been conquered. After his death, people went on the river by boat trying to find his body, but it ended all up with nothing, so they throw sticky rice into the river to stop the fish eating his body.
Nowadays local people paddled their boats up and down while beating drums to keep evil spirits away and feed rice into the river to distract the fishes from eating Quyuan's body.
Now you can still see dragon boat races in many cities during this festival. Local Chinese people eat Zongzi (stuffed rice cake) to honour Quyuan's death. Northern Chinese would stuff sweet bean paste or dates in the rice while southern Chinese prefer a piece of meat (often pork) instead.
2. Qixi Festival or Chinese Valentine's Day
The Qixi Festivalis on the 7th of July according to the lunar calendar, which was on the 17th of August this year (2018).
Niulang, the cowherd, was deeply in love with Zhinv, the youngest daughter of the goddess. Zhinv gave up her life in heaven to live a normal life with Niulang, and in order to do so she shielded her family with a magic spell. However, the spell was weakened after she gave birth to her twin boys and she was separated with her family and taken back to heaven. The goddess was so angry, she decided to punish Niulang and Zhinv. They were imprisoned on two far away stars and could only see each other one day a year.
The Qixi Festival has been celebrated since the Han Dynasty. Over the centuries, the way this festival is celebrated has changed and varied. In some parts of China, young women hide themselves under trees at night on this day. Legend says if they could hear Niulang and Zhinv's conversation, they will be blessed and able to find their true love soon. Today girls sometimes give white chocolates and love letters to the boys they are in love with on this day. It is also called Chinese Valentine's Day.
3. Zhongyuan Festival or Hungry Ghost Festival
The Zhongyuan Festival is on the 15th of July according to the lunar calendar, which was on the 25th of August this year (2018). It is one of the three Chinese Ghost festivals which take place throughout the year according to Daoism. It is also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival.
On this day, it is believed that the door to hell is opened and all the ghosts come pouring out. They either roam around the street or go back and visit their families. The living would feast on this day and leave extra food on the table or on an alter for their ancestors' spirits. Till today, you will see even in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai there are still people burning incense, fake money and paper made objects on the street when the sun goes down. One thing you should be aware of is that always avoid stepping into the left-over ashes. It is seen as disrespectful towards the dead and people believe stepping into or walking through the ashes will bring bad luck.
People celebrate these festivals quite differently from northern to southern China. You may find yourself in a totally different situation depending on the cities you visit. Either way, it is definitely going to be a unique experience.
Summer Street Food
Speaking of differences between southern and northern China, among many other things, the kind of street food you will find popular during summer time is quite different. Chinese love food, it is a known fact. If you walk down the street in the afternoon one day and suddenly find layers of people packed on the sidewalk, there is no need to be alarmed. Chances are they are waiting for their favourite summer street food at a food stall. What is the most popular summer street food in China? What are the different styles you can find in northern and southern China when it comes to street food?
4. BBQ (Shao Kao)
BBQ and cold beer; they are the perfect combination for summer no matter where you are. Chinese people are also crazy about their summer BBQ also known as Shao Kao. While northern Chinese's shao kao are more like proper BBQ with coal, southern Chinese's shaokao is similar to teppanyaki.
In the north, people prefer simple taste which mostly involves only salt, cumin seeds and chilli powder. Southern people, on the other hand, value more the taste of different sauces. Common sauces used is seafood sauce, plum sauce, chilli sauce and bean sauce.
5. Liang Pi vs Liang Fen
Nothing beats cold and tasty Liang Pi &Liang Fen on a hot summer's day. Summer in China can easily reach 40 degrees! Even with air-conditioning there are days you just don't want to eat any cooked food.
Liang Pi (cold skin noodle) is one of the most popular summer dishes (street food) in northern China. It is very thin and skin like wide noodles made out of wheat flour, tossed with vegetables and cubes of spongy gluten, together soaked in special black vinegar sauce. It is the perfect combination of sweetness, saltiness and of course, spice.
While northern Chinese survive summer with their beloved Liang Pi, southern Chinese would not trade their Liang Fen for anything. Liang Fen is also known as jelly rice noodles. It is a famous summer dish which originated from Sichuan province. Liang Fen is made with starch and has crystal appearance and it tastes smooth and cool. It is often served with special chilli sauce, garlic, black vinegar and coriander.
6. Chou Tofu (smelly bean curd)
Finally, last but not the least is the famous Chou Tofu. Now many people have mixed feelings about this. You can find this street food all across China. You may find yourself asking while walking down the street: "God! What is that smell?!!" Congratulations! You may have spotted a Chou Tofu stall nearby. It is basically deep-fried tofu cubes with a poked hole on top to let secretly made toppings and sauce penetrate the crust. Many people are bothered by the smell at first, but once you had a taste of it, chances are you will be addicted to it. If you encounter a Chou Tofu street food stall, why not give it a go.
There is a lot more about summer in China that you may discover and fall in love with as you live through it. It is always fun and exciting to explore different cultures and customs as well as local delicacies.
Written by Zhilin from China