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What to Expect at a Chinese Wedding Buffet

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Their Special Day

If you have never been to a Chinese wedding before, then you are in for a real treat… or even 10 of them! Chinese wedding buffets are unlike anything else, and there’s one thing for sure – you won’t leave hungry. Typically, there are between eight and twelve courses served, and that doesn’t even include the cake! Chinese culture is very much focused on wealth and opulence, and the bride and groom portray this through traditional Chinese cuisine that leaves you full, happy, and comforted. Here’s what you can expect from a classic Chinese wedding and banquet:

Foods that Symbolize Wealth

Cai Shen, or the God of Wealth, is a prominent figure in Chinese culture and, as such, the open display of wealth and status is somewhat of a social expectation in the east, as opposed to an individual decision in the west – and one that’s slightly socially inappropriate at that. This means that you can expect plenty of rich, expensive food items at a Chinese wedding banquet, along with certain foods that symbolize wealth and status in the way that they are presented. Following the wedding speeches, which are often filled with traditional Chinese proverbs such as Yù qióng qiān lǐ mù, gèng shàng yī céng lóu (a proverb that describes how a wedding is just the first in a line of successes for the happy couple), the courses begin to be served one by one – an act that lasts for around two hours. The first courses that are served are often those that are typically very costly, such as suckling pig, sharks fin soup (somewhat controversial, but many Chinese weddings still include this dish), and abalones, often served in an oyster sauce. These foods demonstrates the family’s wealth and success, and give you an opportunity to try some delicious, luxurious, and perhaps different cuisine.

Foods that Symbolize Longevity

For a couple just beginning their life adventures together, the concept of togetherness, and longevity, is hugely important. For this reason, expect a Chinese wedding buffet to include lots of foods served in their ‘whole’ form – such as whole suckling pigs, and fish and chicken still with the head attached. If you’re not accustomed to food being presented in this way, it can be quite a shock, but don’t let the aesthetics put you off. The less that’s done to the meat before cooking, the more flavor it retains, and you can practically guarantee you’ll never taste anything as juicy or flavorsome in your local restaurant! Whole products are also a way to symbolize wealth (yet again), as, traditionally, meat and fish were very expensive in China, and many households could only afford small cuts. Any family that could afford to purchase an entire animal to eat was clearly high up on the social and economic status ladders.

Foods that Symbolize Luck

Every guest wants to wish the newlyweds good luck on their journey together, and luck is also something that is portrayed through the wedding banquet. You’ll often find courses made up of the likes of shrimp, crabmeat, and lobster, all of which give off a pink-red hue when cooked. As many people know, red is hugely symbolic in Chinese culture – it’s the color of luck. You’ll often find Chinese New Year decorations adorned with red designs to symbolize luck for the year ahead, and monetary offerings, as is common at weddings, are usually presented in red envelopes (hong bao). The bride may change into a red dress for the banquet, and the wedding cake will often have red-colored designs to really emphasize the importance of such a color, and help bestow luck upon the betrothed.

If you have never been around Chinese culture, a Chinese wedding can seem truly bizarre, quite involved and complex, and you can feel a bit like a fish out of water at times, but just go with it! Believe it or not, despite the tradition, Chinese weddings are pretty laid back (arguably much more so than some western weddings!), so take the time to tuck in to the various courses, indulge in mouthwatering food, and try new things. It’s a unique experience that is wonderfully memorable.

— Mee Missi

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