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Mar 18, 2013 08:00 PM

Qingming Season - Food for the Dead

Well, the Qingming Festival (清明節), known as Ching Ming in Hong Kong, is approaching once again. This traditional Confucianist ancestor-commemoration festival falls on the 104th day after the winter solstice (or the 15th day from the Spring Equinox) on the Chinese Lunar calendar. This year, it coincides with 4th April on the Gregorian calendar and is a bank holiday in Hong Kong and Taiwan. It is also widely observed in countries with large Chinese populations like Singapore and Malaysia.

Food offerings are central to ancestor worship in Chinese culture, and the types of food offered by a family reflect their ethnicity/dialect group. Being of Peranakan (Straits-Chinese, unique to Singapore, Malacca and Penang) and Hokkien/Teochew (閩民系) descent, my family's food offerings for Qingming include:

- "Hong bak", a sweet, aromatic pork and chicken stew scented with star-anise, darkened with dark soysauce, sweetened with Gula Melaka (brown coconut sugar) and spiked with lots of minced garlic.

- "Itik Tim", the Peranakan/Nyonya take on Chinese duck-and-salted mustard soup. The Nyonya rendition may include "lengkuas" (galangal or blue ginger) and, in some families, lemongrass.

- Nyonya chicken curry - thick and coconutty, scented with lemongrass.

- Pig's stomach soup - yes, we normally have at least 2 types of soup. This one include strips of pig's stomach boiled with chicken, made quite peppery with the addition of lots of whole white peppercorns. Lotus seeds are also added.

- Stewed grated turnip and carrot strips, with pork and shrimps, and sometimes finely-julienned dried cuttlefish.

- A mixed vegetable stir-fry ("Chap Chye") of Chinese origin: usually consisting of green peas, carrots, babycorn, mushrooms, green peppers, pork and shrimps.

Besides the more elaborately-cooked dishes described above, there are the other "standard" food offerings: par-boiled pork belly, whole poached chicken, hard-boiled duck-eggs, fruits, and both Nyonya & Chinese "kuehs' or puddings.

These food items are usually brought to the cemeteries or columbriums, and offered to the dead. Of course, after the requisite rituals, these family get-togethers invariably turned into some kind of picnic of sorts, and the food get consumed on the spot by the living :-)

I'd like to know from other Chowhounds of Chinese ancestry here - what are *your* family dishes for Qingming?

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  1. I always love Ching Ming.

    It's when we get to pack up tons of food, drive to Ayutthaya, lay it out in the sun, sit around for a while, head back and eat the food.

    Personally, since we are talking poultry and seafood, I simply watch the eating of the offerings!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

      True, Curt, in Thai cooking, the frequent use of fresh coconut milk in cooking really heightens the risk of the food going bad when exposed to heat and humidity.

      Could you share on what kind of dishes were offered by your relatives there?

      1. re: klyeoh

        The food offered is your typical prepared items - duck, chicken, cockles, and such - purchased at the market.

        "Our" Ching Ming is more about all the peripheral magic, all the paper gold, paper Benz, flower and incense and the particular placement of these items.

        Personally, my Buddhism is more practice than ritual.

        1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

          Thanks, Curt. My maternal parents were from Bangkok - of Taechiu (潮州, Teochew/Chiuchow/Chaozhou) descent, before they joined the great exodus of Chinese immigrants from Siam to Singapore before World War II.

          The Bangkok branch of our family today are Chinese in appearance, but typically Thai-Chinese in their practice. Qingming at the cemetery is like what you described: Hell Bank Notes, fruits, fresh flowers and sweet cakes. Where there are cooked dishes, they'd have green curry chicken, stewed mustard leaves and galangal with pork-leg (my fave!!), sticky rice with roast pork, etc.Somehow, the "favourite" dishes of the dead would be included in the offerings.