For couples of Chinese heritage around the world, planning a Chinese wedding banquet is a great way to incorporate your culture into your special day. Including traditional Chinese wedding food is also an easy way to honor parents and older relatives who may prefer Chinese cuisine to more standard Western party fare.
Here are some tips for incorporating Chinese wedding banquet traditions into any celebration.
Planning a Traditional Chinese Wedding Banquet
The wedding banquet was traditionally a way for the couple’s families to demonstrate their prosperity and generosity. Today, it’s an opportunity for celebrating your relationship and connecting with loved ones near and far.
Chinese wedding banquets are also a chance to wish the new couple well as they begin their lives together. There is plenty of symbolism you can incorporate into your banquet, from colors to lucky numbers to homophones (words that sound like other fortuitous words).
How many courses are in a Chinese wedding banquet?
Typically, Chinese wedding banquets include eight or nine dishes. The Mandarin word for eight, ba, sounds like the word for good luck, while the word for nine, jiu, sounds like the word for long. Serving eight or nine dishes is a way to invoke good luck and longevity for the newlyweds.
Who is invited to a Chinese wedding banquet?
Traditionally, the parents of the bride and groom held separate banquets for their respective families and friends. If your parents are financing the banquet or the entire wedding, and maybe even if they aren’t, you can probably expect to see lots of their friends on the guest list. But remember that this day is the beginning of your marriage, and you are allowed to celebrate with the people nearest and dearest to you. Check with your banquet venue about the maximum capacity and cost per person so you can plan accordingly.
What should I wear for my wedding banquet?
Many brides of Chinese descent have multiple outfit changes throughout their wedding celebration. (Lucky you!) Some choose to wear a western style wedding gown for the ceremony and switch to a traditional red qipao or cheongsam for the reception and banquet. Others may choose a traditional, two-piece Chinese wedding dress known as a qun kwa for the Chinese tea ceremony. There are also Chinese dresses in white that can take you from ceremony to banquet. Take our style quiz to find your dream cheongsam!
Most Popular Traditional Chinese Wedding Foods
Many of the foods traditionally served at Chinese wedding banquets are chosen to symbolize wishes for happiness, longevity, or fertility through the names, colors, and flavors of the food.
Lobster and Chicken
Source: Woks of Life
The pairing of dragon and phoenix in Chinese mythology represents the union of male and female, or yin and yang energy. In Chinese cuisine, lobster represents the dragon and chicken the phoenix. When served together, they represent the couple’s blissful union. These dishes are typically served whole to represent the couple’s happiness remaining intact for life.
Source: O&O Eats
Ducks are a common symbol of fidelity in Chinese culture since many ducks mate for life. Roast duck, or Peking Duck, is also served whole to represent peace and completeness within the marriage. Roast duck is usually served with a sweet plum sauce, strands of spring onion and thin steamed flour wraps. The crispy red skin symbolizes happiness.
Shark’s Fin Soup
Source: Her World
Shark’s fin soup is an expensive delicacy that demonstrates the family’s wealth and generosity. Due to recent concerns about the environmental impact of harvesting shark fins, couples may substitute bird’s nest soup, a similarly luxurious appetizer.
Source: Cafe Delites
Roast pork symbolizes the bride’s virginity/purity. You can always ditch the patriarchy and serve roast pork just because it tastes good!
Abalone and Sea Cucumber
These seafood dishes are chosen for their favorable-sounding names. The Mandarin word for abalone sounds like the word for abundance, while the Cantonese word for sea cucumber sounds like the word for good heart. Serving these foods represents wishes for the couple to have abundant good feelings.
Source: Woks of Life
The word for fish sounds like the word for plentiful. Like other foods, fish is served whole at a Chinese wedding banquet to ensure that the couple’s marriage will remain intact and abundant throughout their entire lives.
Source: Woks of Life
Fertility is another blessing asked for on behalf of the newlyweds. The Mandarin word for scallop sounds like raising children, so serving scallops at a wedding is a delicious way to wish the couple plenty of offspring to carry on the family name.
Source: Woks of Life
Noodles are often served at New Year and other occasions to symbolize longevity. As staples, noodles and rice are typically not included in the count of Chinese wedding banquet dishes and are usually brought out at the end to ensure no one goes home hungry.
How to Include Chinese Wedding Food at Cross-Cultural Celebrations
There are plenty of ways to incorporate Chinese wedding food into your celebration without having a full wedding banquet. You may reduce the number of courses, integrate your favorite Chinese wedding food items into a Western menu, and modify dishes to meet specific dietary needs.
Vegetarian Noodle or Rice Dishes
It’s easy to omit meat from staple dishes like fried rice or stir-fried noodles. You can use eggs, peanut sauce, tofu, or seitan for protein. Try some of these vegetarian Chinese noodle dishes.
Gluten-free Soy Sauce
If you or your guests have gluten sensitivity, you can use tamari, coconut aminos, rice soy sauce in place of traditional wheat-containing soy sauces. Here’s a guide to gluten-free soy sauce brands.
Substitutes for Shark Fin Soup
While shark fin soup has long been considered a delicacy, the environmental impact of harvesting shark fins has prompted concerns about serving the dish. The flavor of shark fin soup actually comes from the broth, which is made with Chinese ham, chicken and aromatics. So you may be able to replicate the taste without using any actual shark fin.
In addition to or instead of traditional western wedding cake, you can serve some favorite Asian desserts, which are typically lighter and less sugary than Western desserts. But they can still symbolize plenty of sweetness and marital happiness.
Hot Red Bean Soup with Lotus Seeds
Source: Woks of Life
With their many seeds, lotuses symbolize...you guessed it, fertility! The lotus seed and red bean soup represents wishes for a hundred years of happiness.
Source: Kirbie Cravings
The sweet buns are filled with sweet lotus paste or sesame paste. The sweetness represents a joyful marriage, while the stickiness reflects the couple “sticking together” for the rest of their lives.
Source: Cupcake Project
Fortune cookies originated within the Chinese American community, and some question their authenticity. But they make fun favors or place card holders for your Chinese wedding banquet.
Chinese Wedding Cakes
You can have a Western-style wedding cake decorated with Chinese elements such as the double happiness symbol, dragon and phoenix imagery, calligraphy of the couple’s names, or motifs from blue and white Ming ware.
Drinks for a Chinese Wedding Banquet
Source: Wedding Notebook
It’s traditional for the couple to receive three toasts at the wedding banquet: blissful marriage, eternal love, and having children soon. Traditionally, the couple also goes to each table to toast all the guests. To keep Asian glow from ruining your wedding look (or having a hangover to nurse on your honeymoon), you may consider watering down the drinks you use to toast each table with.
Chinese Rice Wine: Baijiu
Baijiu is the traditional drink of choice for Chinese wedding banquets. Baijiu is distilled from fermented sorghum and sometimes other grains. It is a very strong liquor (between 80 and 120 proof) and can be a bit of an acquired taste, so sip carefully. Some couples sneakily switch to water after a few shots since baijiu is colorless!
Red wine is growing in popularity at Chinese wedding banquets. It is not as strong as baijiu and may be more palatable for guests who aren’t used to the flavor of rice wine.
If reading this article made you hungry, you’re not alone! Food is an integral part of Chinese culture, so it is no wonder it plays an important role in Chinese wedding banquets as well.
In the mood for more?
- Check out our ultimate Chinese wedding decorations checklist for your banquet planning
- Get inspired by these 30 gorgeous details on a qipao dress
- Get ideas for Chinese wedding guest favors to give out