Tomb Sweeping Day, also known as the Qingming Festival, is an important holiday in Chinese culture.
Historical records show it has been observed for more than 2,500 years. The day began as a marker of rising temperature and the start of the farming season. But during the Jin Dynasty, Qingming became a day for remembering the dead.
According to legend, the festival was established by Duke Wen of Jin who spent years in exile before coming to power. His court official Jie Zitui followed him loyally into exile. One day, when the duke fainted from starvation, Jie Zitui amputated part of his leg to feed the duke.
When the duke returned to power he decided to reward all the officials who had served him loyally. Jie was forgotten, and by the time the duke remembered, Jie had perished. Because Jie died near the Qingming Festival, the duke decided the festival would commemorate his death.
This issue of Beijing Today introduces some traditional foods for the Qingming holiday.
These green, roundish steamed buns are usually eaten in southern China. Their skin is made from a mixture of glutinous rice flour and jiangmaicao. The bun is filled with sweetened bean paste and some cooks add a bit of lard to give it some extra flavor.
Ai ban is mostly consumed in Hakka families. An old Hakka proverb says, “Having ai ban around Qingming will keep you healthy the whole year.” The snack is made by mashing aicao into a paste and mixing it with glutinous rice flour and water. Each ai ban is filled with sesame, peanuts and other nuts depending on personal taste.
Nuangubao is a traditional snack in Taining, Fujian province. Nuangubao are made of nuangucao, a common vegetable in Fujian villages. Traditionally, the bun is also used when praying for good weather in the coming year.
Sanzi is eaten in both southern and northern China. However, northern sanzi is made of flour and southern sanzi is made of rice flour. And in northwest China’s Xinjiang, sanzi is mostly eaten on Muslim holidays rather than Qingming.
Like ai ban, some people believe that eating eggs around Qingming will help people stay healthy throughout the year. Traditionally, people not only eat eggs but also play with them. Some regions color their eggs or carve them into different shapes.
Also known as lao momo, zi tuimo usually look like an ancient helmet. Each weighs between 250-500 grams and comes stuffed with egg and dry dates. The snacks come in different shapes, with some resembling snakes and others rabbits or swallows. It’s said that young girls should eat zhuazan mo, married woman should eat suozi mo and children should eat the ones that look like animals.