Lucky food has nothing to do with the sickly sweet breakfast cereal from America, nor is it a reference to the dog food brand of the same name.
Eating ‘lucky’ or ‘auspicious’ food is something every culture does. Whether it’s mince pies at Christmas (which most confusingly for non-westerners contain no meat) or chocolate rabbits at Easter ( which is a pagan symbol adopted by The Christians) eating food because it marks certain days in the calendar or gives us a boost when we need it is something we all have in common.
Thai’s have a thing about layer cakes. Whether it’s the traditional Khanom Chan, an ancient desert that uses three kind of flour, to the slightly more modern Crepe Cakes seen in every respectable café and cake store around the country, Thais, and many foreign visitors, cannot get enough of thinly sliced sweet things piled on top of each other.
Khanom Chan used to only be made for special occasions. Like a number of Asian cultures, Thai culture places a lot of importance on the auspiciousness of certain foods. This sweet treat consists of nine different layers, often flavoured and coloured separately, and interspersed with a coconut layer. The number 9 is lucky in Thai, as the word (gow) sounds like ‘prosperity’. Eating Khanom Chan means you will have prosperity in your life, and promotion in your occupation.
The flours used are tapioca, arrowroot and rice flour. Colours come from natural substances. Pandanas leaves for the green, butterfly pea flowers for the blue, Rosella (the bulbs of the hibiscus flower) for the red, turmeric for the yellow, and a mixture of Butterfly pea and lime juice for purple. The cake is held together by coconut milk, so this is not a low-cal dessert (OK, there is no such thing as a low-cal cake) but it’s great for anyone gluten or lactose intolerant, and is vegan.
Thai Crepe cakes are a less traditional, but equally delicious, dessert idea based loosely along auspicious lines. Whether it’s green tea fancies, or rainbow warrior style pastries, these yummy delights are less about prosperity and more about looking beautiful and tasting yummy.
If you are looking for something less in the dessert category, how about a raw fish salad? Usually served up at Chinese New Year, this dish is made up of strips of raw fish mixed with vegetables, sauces, and other condiments such as peanut crumbs and fried crisps. In Mandarin (Putonghua) the name for this dish is ‘yu sheng’, which sounds like ‘increased abundance’, in Cantonese (Guangdonghua) It is called ‘lo hei’ , which sounds like the same thing. The Chinese are nothing if not pragmatic, even in language. In order to get the most out of your salad, you should wish for things when you add the ingredients and sauces for the dressings. Then, when the salad is tossed, all the wishes get released, and you are guaranteed a year of good fortune and prosperity.
In India, milk is said to be auspicious during Mahashivratri, which is a Hindu Festival. According to tradition, milk and honey are offered to the Hindu God Lord Shiva during this time, because in Indian Mythology he is known as a destroyer and these things calm him down. The legend of Shiva includes him drinking a pot full of venom which he didn’t swallow but held in his throat, and therefore consuming milk, curds, coconut milk and honey are a useful talisman against trouble.
For the Vietnamese, Bánh chưng and bánh tét are two delicious treats to be eaten either at Tet (New Year) or anytime when you need some extra good food vibes. This is a dish of tightly packed sticky rice filled with meat or bean fillings and wrapped in banana leaves.
This food looks like eco-friendly Birthday presents when it is presented at the table!! Bánh chưng is the square-shaped one, while bánh tét is cylindrical. Also, bánh chưng is more popular in the northern parts of Vietnam, so as bánh tét is more popular in the south. Preparation can take days but the result is always the same, delicious and auspicious.
Does your culture have a traditional dish that is lucky as well as yummy? Drop us a line at My Grey Nomads and we will let the rest of the World know.