From festivals to birthdays, noodles are spotted at every significant Chinese celebration. Despite their ordinary appearance, we discover the cultural significance behind this delicious stringy staple.
The Chinese culture stands to be one of the oldest, making it rich in history – from beliefs; to customs; to even food. Traditional dishes are typically consumed because of their colour and meaning; making them particularly important during Chinese holidays. And the annual spring festival is no ordinary celebration but a banquet filled with dishes; each symbolising a meaning carried forth in the new year. One of the standout dishes in a Chinese banquet are longevity noodles. Not limited to just one style of cooking, these noodles are usually made with yi mein noodles, and alternatively known as ee-fu noodles. To make things easier, we have rounded up five fun facts that provide you with a better explanation about this unique dish present at every Chinese celebration.
It is hard to precisely pin down the origins of this dish, but it was likely present in various dynasties in China according to historical evidence through poetry. During the Tang dynasty, a poet named Liu Yuxi wrote about holding noodles up with chopsticks while reciting verses in front of a newborn – an action that is said to represent good wishes for a long life. Another popular myth which revolves around the longevity noodle dish dates back to Emperor Wu of Han. The emperor placed a firm belief in equating the length of one’s face to their lifespan. In other words, a person with a longer face was believed to live longer. Also, the Chinese word for face, refers to mian which also sounds like noodles. Hence, long noodles traditionally have been used as a metaphor to indicate longevity as well as blessings for the new year.
2. DURING BIRTHDAYS
Birthdays are also important celebrations that hold this stringy and chewy staple in high regard. And as the belief goes, the longer the length of noodle, the longer life the person who consumes it will have – making it perfect for the feting of a birth. During birthdays, this dish is served towards the end of the meal in small portions accompanied with a broth.
3. WHEN CAN IT BE UNLUCKY?
Noodles by definition are long and can vary in their shape whether stringy or flat. Based on Chinese beliefs, this dish is to be eaten bit by bit, without the noodles getting broken or severed. Hence, this dish is to be eaten in a certain manner ensuring the individual who consumes it receives all the luck. It would come as no surprise that cutting a noodle strand means shortening one’s life, an action that leads to bad luck in some Chinese beliefs.
4. CHINESE NEW YEAR CELEBRATION
These chewy noodles make a regular appearance during Chinese New Year celebrations. Again, noodles represent long life which links to a number of themes revolving around luck, prosperity and wealth. These noodles also tend to be flatter in shape compared to other varieties. During the Chinese New Year celebration, this dish can be prepared in various methods – from braised to being served in soup. A common way of serving the noodles is in chicken broth, along with green leafy vegetables. Similar to birthdays, this dish is served last in a bowl, with small portions that represent blessings for the new year.
5. FROM A CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE
Apart from Chinese New Year celebrations, the auspicious saying ‘Long life; hundred years’ has a larger meaning. The Chinese philosopher Confucius exalted many virtues, and one of them is piety towards one’s elders. In Taoism, one of the many Chinese religions, devotees believe in achieving immortality and attaining nirvana. And from the combined influence of both these beliefs, the concept of longevity also has a strong influence, not just in food, but in art as well. Peaches for example, are also homonyms for longevity in Mandarin – which is why these fruits are often present at Chinese birthdays.