Rich colorful porridge a must-have on La Ba Festival
By Zhang Qian
Eating rich and colorful congee of many ingredients is a tradition today on the La Ba Festival.
The festival was originally a day of thanks for a good harvest and sacrifice to ancestors. It also marks the day on which Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, reached enlightenment and became immortal.
The La Ba festival is celebrated on the eighth (ba 八) day of the 12th and the last lunar month (la yue 腊月) and is one of the most important traditional festivals in Chinese culture. It is also a prelude to the Chinese Lunar New Year.
The congee (la ba zhou 腊八粥) typically contains a minimum of eight ingredients and as many as 18, including rice, red beans, jujube, lily root, lotus seeds, walnuts, peanuts, green beans, gouqi (wolfberry 枸杞), pearl barley and millet. It’s sweetened with sugar or seasoned with salt.
On this day in the past, many Chinese families would butcher pigs and sheep, salt preserved fish and ham, buy nian huo (New Year’s goods 年货) and, of course, cook la ba zhou and share it with neighbors and relatives.
In some rural areas, people still spread la ba congee on doors, fences and wood stacks as a sacrifice to the God of Grains.
The Chinese character la also can mean the transition from old to new, hunting for sacrificial offerings, dispelling disease and welcoming the new spring.
The festival can be traced back to the Xia Dynasty (21-16 BC) when it was a celebration of the harvest and expression of thanks to ancestors and gods. In the Southern and Northern dynasties (AD 420-589) that the festival was fixed on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month.
La ba suan (garlic 蒜), la ba tofu and la ba noodles are also prepared in different regions, but colorful la ba congee is prepared everywhere.
Red beans are an essential ingredient since it was thought to ward off diseases. Legend has it that three sons of an emperor became evil ghosts and brought diseases to the people. They feared nothing except red beans.
The La Ba Festival falls on the same day on which the Buddha became immortal. It’s said that the Buddha fainted from hunger during his fasting and meditation. A passing shepherdess cooked congee of wild grains and nuts and fed him the nutritious porridge. Thus, eating congee is an important custom for many Buddhists.
Tomorrow, temples will hold ceremonies and offer la ba congee to the faithful. Before the festival, some monks beg for grains and nuts to be used in the congee, which is offered to the poor.
It is said that this fo zhou (佛粥) or Buddha congee will protect those who eat it from harm.
La ba congee
Ingredients: glutinous rice (150g), green beans (25g), red beans (25g), cashews (25g), peanuts (25g), longan (15g), jujubes (25g), rock sugar (75g)
1. Soak glutinous rice in water overnight.
2. Soak beans for four hours.
3. Cook beans and nuts with water until 70 percent done.
4. Add glutinous rice, jujubes and longan.
5. Boil again, turn down to mid-heat, simmer for 30 minutes.