There is much symbolism and tradition represented by the food in a traditional Chinese wedding banquet. These are extravagant affairs, meant as a showing of prosperity and a grand celebration of the union of bride and groom and two families. I had the great joy of attending my cousin’s wedding in Taipei, Taiwan. The day began with the bride and groom arriving by motorcade to the groom’s home. They were greeted with loud firecrackers and the congratulations of passers by. The bride wore a western-style white wedding dress with long train and feathered white shoes, and the groom wore a formal suit. They were presented with oranges, for luck, and apples, for peace. They bowed to honor the groom’s mother and father. They ate a soup of glutinous rice balls (tang yuan) stuffed with dates, which is a not-so-subtle symbol of fertility.
The wedding banquet took place at the sleek and modern Le Meridien Taipei. A long table was set up to receive the guests. There were separate hosts for the groom’s side and bride’s side who greet each guest and receive the red envelopes containing gifts of money, which were meticulously accounted in a ledger. There was a signature book for the guests to sign. There was an ornate floral arrangement showcasing beautiful pictures of the bride and groom.
A map designated the seating arrangements for eighteen tables of a dozen guests each. At one end of the room was the head table, for the bride and groom, their parents, and the elders of each family. The head table was covered in traditional red, while the remaining tables were covered in a silvery bronze satin. There was an elegant formal place setting with a small wedding favor for each guest. Placed on the center of each table was a floral arrangement, the menu, and plates of cold appetizers.
For the cold appetizers there was roast duck, chicken, tofu skin, jellied fish skin, preserved tiny fish with peanuts, fermented cabbage, and preserved mullet roe. The salad course featured an enormous piece of abalone dressed with a soy-yuzu dressing. This was followed by a bowl of glutinous sweet rice balls, a traditional wedding dish. Typically, these are served as a soup, but here they were served dry, and one was crisped on the outside with sticky glutinous rice and sweet red bean filling on the inside, perhaps the best bite of the day. Next was a rich chicken broth with mushrooms and slick chicken skin. The main courses were a mix of east and west: an enormous single prawn with scallions, a perfectly cooked beefsteak with garlic and soy and mushrooms and Chinese vegetables, delicate steamed fish with soy, ginger, and scallions, sweet rice with dried scallops and shrimp. For dessert there were rich chocolate brownies with walnuts and a bowl of white yogurt pudding with a circle of mango sauce on top that gave the illusion of a sunny-side up egg. Finally, fresh fruit of sweet pineapple and watermelon. Ten courses, because ten is a perfect number. Each guest received a parting wedding favor of an enormous gift box containing a selection of Chinese pastries. An outstanding culinary celebration of a joyous occasion.