The wedding banquet is an important part of Chinese matrimonial traditions. Traditionally, it is meant for parents to introduce their son and daughter to their friends and relatives, especially those who they don’t see often. As such, wedding banquets before were a pretty simple affair, with the food as the ultimate source of fun and merriment.
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Nowadays, however, Chinese weddings are measured with different yardsticks. While today’s Chinese wedding celebrations are still loaded with rituals and traditions, the options for modern-minded brides and grooms are so different from what it used to. For instance, before there was no evening gown for brides, no grand venues and photo boots to entertain the guests.
This results to great disparity in wedding cost between today’s and past Chinese weddings. Good thing is modern bridal couples are completely in charge of their wedding, unlike before when weddings are handled by the groom’s and the bride’s parents. This means they can choose the kind of wedding celebration that is appropriate not only to their preference and budget but also for their guests.
Commonly Served Foods
A real and grand Chinese wedding banquet should include at least one dish each of pigeon, roast suckling pig, fish, chicken in red oil, and lobster. All these foods are symbolic to Chinese culture: pigeon, being a symbol of peace, implies a peaceful future; roast suckling pig signifies the bride’s purity, thus it is served whole; fish is equivalent to abundance when pronounce in Chinese; and chicken, which means prosperity to Chinese, signifies the wish for a prosperous life ahead for the bride and the groom. The chicken also represents the phoenix, while the lobster represents the dragon. This is why they are often served together to signify that the phoenix and the dragon are in harmony, along with other family elements.
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Banquets can consist of 10 or more dishes, though 8 or 9 courses are more often chosen for the significance of these numbers – the number 8 sounds like prosperity and success, while the number 9 sounds like long-lasting. It should be noted though that dessert is not yet included in an 8-course meal.
Traditional Serving Process
The serving of dishes start with the appetisers, which typically consist of cold platters of seafood, sliced meats and nuts. Next comes some steamed, stir-fried or deep-fried dishes, followed by the special soup. Finally, the main dishes are served, which often features the most expensive ingredients.
No specific foods are mentioned under every category to help bridal couples choose foods that they and their guests will truly appreciate. While there are standard food options that hotels, restaurants and independent caterers offer to Chinese clients, the latter can always request for changes in the menu to meet their budget and their gastronomic preference.
It’s often best for couples to serve simple and easy-to-find appetisers. Most guests will not care much if the appetisers served are simple and familiar. Guests will appreciate the appetiser if it is something familiar, especially those who are already hungry when they arrive at the reception. Hence, they’ll be satisfied even with simple cheese squares, crackers and fruits.
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If the caterer or the wedding venue allows bringing in appetisers made from home or by an outside vendor, and if this option will reduce the overall cost of the menu, then bridal couples should consider this option. It may sound time consuming, but appetisers are actually quite easy to do. A family cook can help prepare the appetisers ahead of time, froze them up and just warm them up before the cocktail hour.
Some examples of easy-to-do and satisfying appetisers are stacked tomatoes and mozzarella, meatball bubble biscuits, cheesy quesadillas and Mexican 8-layer dip. For more Asian cuisines some examples are Asian lettuce wrap, roasted Asian chicken wing, Asian salad with sesame dressing, summer rolls, sesame scallion flatbread and shrimp with sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce.
If a sit-down banquet is too expensive and a buffet setup seems unappetising, consider setting up food stations to feed your guests. Food stations can features all the variety of food a typical buffet offers sans the cafeteria feel. You may combine food bar and stations featuring your favourite appetisers/desserts and nutritious drinks.
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– Fruit Pizza Bar – Provide several fruit options (sliced) for toppings. This will help create a healthy treat that kids and adults guests will love.
– Grilled Cheese Station – Pick out interesting toppings like sun dried tomatoes, candied pecans, pesto, wasabi sauce to name a few. These toppings make this casual party station more special and unusual.
– Build-Your-Own Taco Bar – If Mexican foods are a particular favourite of the bride or the groom’s family, then setting up a taco bar sounds a good idea to consider.
– Churro Bar – Guests that are fond of donuts and chocolate will definitely find this bar heaven sent! This dessert bar will help guests pick dessert when they’re ready and eat it at their own pace. Package the churros in parchment paper cones for an easy grab.
– Milkshake Bar – For a summer reception, this is an excellent treat to help guests cool off. Offer other sweet ingredients like gummy bears, pepper mint, cinnamon and whipped cream to be mixed with classic vanilla, strawberry and chocolate milk shake.
If budget is a concern, but at the same time you can’t forgo having a bar, then just have a limited open bar. This means that if you have, for example, a reception that lasts for four hours, open the bar for just the first two hour. Most guests will drink liquor only when they arrive at the reception while waiting for the main event to start, and they’ll most like not have a second drink. Some guests also stay only until dinner. Hence, not all guests will be there to enjoy an open bar. Another option is to close the bar during dinner since most guest will be busy with their meals that time.
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Chinese weddings are loaded with traditions and rituals. But modern bridal couples can always set their own standards for their banquet menu without showing irreverence to major Chinese traditions or merely jumping into the glamorous wedding bandwagon. They can do it by keeping the menu simple and introducing interesting wedding approaches that are not often included in standard menus.
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