Cycle of giving and eating
Updated: 2013-08-11 08:19
By Han Bingbin (China Daily)
It is part of the culture to bring back gifts from a holiday or a visit to another city or country, and it is also the custom to offer something delicious. Han Bingbin looks at how both factors combine to create a whole range of edible souvenirs from around China.
For the Chinese, nothing is more meaningful than food as a gift. When friends and relatives visit from a different city, or when colleagues return from a business trip somewhere afar, more often than not they will be carrying back local specialties. Edible ones.
Beijing's candied haw or bingtang hulu Frank / for China Daily
These may range from naturally air-dried yak meat from Tibet or Inner Mongolia autonomous region, to freshly steamed Cantonese water-chestnut cake or packs of pickled vegetables from Tianjin.
What these gifts represent is more than a bite of fun, but also an intimate greeting from a different culinary way of life. That's how China's varied regional cultures meet and meld.
In my hometown Yangzhou, we also have a tradition when we visit those who are older, to show respect. We bring something called zaocha, which literally means "morning tea" - usually several bags of pastries such as walnut cakes and sesame pancakes.
Every region has a different eating culture, and the variations form a very wide spectrum.
In Beijing, roast duck is always the first choice as a souvenir. Since the freshly roasted birds are not easy to bring around, enterprising restaurateurs prepare vacuum-packed birds that are prettily packaged.
They may not taste as good as the birds carved at the table, but, nonetheless, their popularity is testament in the long line of tourists in front of Quanjude's take-away window at Qianmen. After all, most tourists want a bird from Beijing's most well-known duck restaurant.
In times past, when the duck was way beyond most tourist budgets, another more affordable Beijing specialty was brought home. Then as now, candied fruits, usually a colorful mixture of apple, peach and apricot packed into a little bamboo crate, make a convenient take-home gift.