"Bun Mountains" at Hong Kong's Annual Bun Festival

I had first heard about Hong Kong's Cheung Chau Bun Festival by watching My Life as McDull, an existential cartoon about a Hong Kongese pig who trains to climb a mountain of Chinese steamed buns. A mountain of Chinese steamed buns!?! At first I thought such a thing was made up, until I saw real black & white footage of climbers interspersed with the animation. How odd, I thought.

Coincidentally, my boyfriend and I were in Hong Kong for Buddha's Birthday, the holiday on which the annual Bun Festival takes place on the island of Cheung Chau. There was supposed to be a parade, some other festivities, and the climbing competition at midnight. As a foodie who revels in weird food festivals, I had to go, mostly to see how they construct a mountain of buns.

We hopped on a ferry from Central along with 95% of Hong Kong island, and an hour later arrived on the banks of the small fishing village. The first thing we saw outside the ferry terminal were crowds of people waiting for the parade.

Unfortunately, there were so many people that new arrivals had no where to stand. The police were directing everyone toward the temple. We slowly inched our way out of the throngs of people, and headed toward the food and trinket vendors. People were selling bun keychains, bun t-shirts, and big fluffy bun cushions. The longest line was, obviously, for actual steamed sweet buns with fillings like red bean and lotus seed. After waiting for about 20 minutes we walked away with 2 big sesame buns emblazoned with the characters for "peace."

There was no possibility of seeing any of the parade, which crowds 4 or 5 deep at every point. (I'm a tiny person, so even in Hong Kong this means not seeing much unless I'm up front.) Finally we reach a point where I can see lion dancers. But by then I was already mezmerized by the towers of buns looming in the background. To give you an indication of how high they are, the yellow tip on the right edge of the photo is the top of a pagoda.

From About.com's Chinese Food site:

"The buns, which have been blessed, are handed out to the people on the final day of the festival. Traditionally, men competed in a race to climb up the towers and grab as many buns as possible. In 1978, one of the towers collapsed, injuring several people. The tragic accident forced authorities to cancel the competition. However, organizers revived the competition in 2005. To ensure the safety of participants and spectators, the towers are now made of steel, covered with a bamboo scaffolding to look more authentic."

This is my favorite part:

"Prospective bun-climbers must take a training course to learn basic mountaineering skills."

Because of dinner plans on Hong Kong island, we had to miss the night time bun climbing competition. In case you want to know what grown men (and women) climbing a mountain of buns looks like, I snapped a photo of the poster.

Near the temple there were more bun trees off all different sizes, maybe for sale or to be given as prizes. (I had thought the buns were fake, until I saw some birds nibling at them.) These minature bun towers would make awesome living room ormamentation.

If anyone else knows of other odd food festivals around China, drop a comment!

Disappearing Foods of America

I couldn't resist posting this map of Disappearing Foods in America from the NYTimes after I found the link via Eating Asia. The related article about how Gary Paul Nabhan, a food historian, has come out with a new book on ingredients (plant and animal) once vital to American culture that are now endangered or extinct. Through publishing the book he hopes to be able to save or resurrect, through farming and breeding, these disappearing foods.

The only foods on the map I can recall ever eating are free-range American bison and California mission olives (well, the olive oil, at least.) It's possible that I've had some of the New England fruits, but I can't say for sure. (I feel so ashamed!)

Which makes me wonder what foods in China I'm missing out on, that were popular ingredients decades or centuries ago that have been lost to industrialisation. And what I'm eating now won't be around in 20, 10, or even 5 years.

On a different note, I'm in Hong Kong, after a nice leisurely train ride that was nothing like the horrendous trip I took in February. I love this place. Clean(er) streets! Good milk tea! Unresistricted internet! Ah...if only HK weren't so expensive to live in...

Lucky Nectarines

I first saw these nectarines at a park in Guangzhou, dangling from a tree as part of a botanical exhibit. I learned from my dad that they (the nectarine growers) put some sort of a sticker over the fruit before it ripens to block out light and create a lettering effect. Quite clever, I must say.

Lately these things have been popping up in Beijing's produce markets. I couldn't resist buying some, despite the fact that they were almost twice as expensive as other nectarines. I dug through a bin and pulled out "double happiness" (喜喜 shuāng xǐ) and "long life" (寿 shòu). All the "good fortune"s (福 fú) looked a little bruised, so I didn't get any. They were quite juicy and delicious on a hot muggy day.

I've seen this natural lettering on apples too. My dad seemed stumped when I asked him over the phone just a few minutes ago if this type of fruit had an official name in Chinese. "Fat choy guo?" he guessed, meaning fortune fruit in Cantonese. Perhaps. Has anyone else seen these around and/or know what they're called?