chinese wedding party 101

April 27, 2006 at 6:38 am (reflectionary)

Awww hell, and it wasn't even a Chinese wedding dinner party…

A friend of mine from San Diego who is getting married in July had just sent out an email to all his guests about the intricacies behind a Chinese wedding banquet — food playing a central role to the celebratory event. At the last wedding I went to, the MC tried to squeeze tiny tidbits about the rituals like the bouquet toss and wedding cake but somehow it got all lost in the buzz around the groom seranading the bride. The open bar didn't help much either for retaining the knowledge. (BTW, the invitation my friend sent is beautiful and tri-lingual [in Chinese, Vietnamese and English] and I think it is lightly jasmine-scented but I could be hallucinating.)

For the most part, our wedding will be pretty traditional. In the 5th to 3rd centuries BC, there were guides such as the "Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial" laying out the rites considered essential to any Chinese wedding.

A number of rituals were discussed there, such as the preparation of the bridal bed, typically installed by a bearer of many children to ensurefertility for the couple, the hair-combing ceremony the night before forboth the bride and groom as a rite of passage as they transition frombeing a son/daughter to husband/wife, and the tea ceremony to serve tofamily members on both sides to receive their blessings for the union.The color red is symbolic for all joyous Chinese events. In a wedding, this may be in the invitations, decorations, clothing, and other motifs. Although not required, red may be worn throughout the wedding by the bridein one or more of her dresses and by the guests.Ubiquitous in any traditional Chinese wedding, the Chinese characterfor "Double Happiness", dating back to the Tang Dynasty, is in the front of all our invitation envelopes and is taped and framed against the walls of the restaurant, bedrooms, corridors, and homes.Here's a link that gives some of the history behind the symbol (

In many Chinese weddings, eight and nine are good numbers. Eight ("baht") rhymes with "faht" ("to prosper"), whereas Nine ("gou") is a homophone tothe Chinese word for "long". Many of the dishes are symbolic for wishingthe Chinese couple prosperity, happiness, longetivity, and peace together. At our banquet, there will actually be 11 courses total. However, most Chinese actually do not count the appetizer plate or the dessert. Excluding thesethen, we have 9 main courses, served family style.

In many of the plates, such as the lobster, fish, and chicken dishes, you'll notice that these items will be served in its entirety, head and all. A Chinese proverb says to "have head have tail," to mean "completeness". Here are some of the menu items to expect:

An appetizer plate
Cold cuts, jelly fish, and roast pork. Pork is served here to
represent virginity. In the past, wealth had been measured by
the amount of livestock a family possesses. The groom's family will
offer a whole suckling pig for the bride's family as a gift.
Its presentation at the engagement is no simple feat,
so any family going through the trouble to offer this gift to
the bride's family meant that the bride was of good and pure

Garlic Stir-Fried Scallops
Scallops are symbolic for wealth, as many items that pertain to
currency have a derivative of its character in Chinese.

Roast Squab
Squab is a small, fledgling pigeon and is used here as a symbol for
peace to wish the couple a peaceful life together. The word for
it in Cantonese is "Yi Kap", which also sounds like the words for an
"an easy fit" in Chinese.

Abalone with Shitake Mushrooms
Abalone (pronounced "Bao-yu" in Cantonese) sounds like the phrase
"assurance of surplus". The Shitake Mushrooms enhance the flavors
and relate back to the texture of the Abalone.

Shark-Fin Soup with Crabmeat
This makes a good brothy complement next to all the other dishes.
For its cost and symbolism for wealth, serving shark-fin soup is
typically reserved for special occasions such as weddings and
major birthdays. As sharks do not get cancer, many Chinese also
believe that it's good for you,

Lobster stir-fried in Chicken Broth
The word for Lobster ("long ha") is literally "dragon shrimp"
in Chinese. Commonly used for celebrations, the dragon is a symbol
for strength. In a wedding, the Dragon represents the Male in the

Chicken stuffed with Kum-Hua Ham
A more romantic word for Chicken in Chinese is "Fong".
Literally it means "phoenix" and is a symbol for the Female
in the union. The Ham ("Kum-Hua") literally means "Golden and

Cantonese Style Steamed Fish with Ginger & Scallions
Fish is a symbol for abundance as any waters that have plenty of fish
will also have a lot of natural resources the fish can feed on. Its
word in Chinese, "Yu", is a homonym for "having enough".

Noodles in Abalone Sauce
For its length, noodles are symbolic for longevity in the Chinese
culture. This dish is served to wish the couple a long, happy marriage.

Chow Fan (Fried Rice) with Scallops
There's a fried rice dish with a tomato based fried rice
on one side and normal fried rice on the other, symbolizing both
sides coming together. But we don't like this dish and
just opted for normal Fried Rice with Dried Scallops.

Dessert – "One Hundred Years of Good Togetherness"
This sweet dessert is served to newlyweds to wish them a sweet life.
The hot sweet soup should contain lotus seeds (symbolic for fertility)
and a bark-like vegetable (bak hop, literally "hundred-togetherness")
to wish the newlyweds one hundred years of togetherness.

Other protocols at the Banquet:
The banquet starts with a meet-and-greet and guest sign-in at the door.
In a traditional Chinese wedding, most of the guests will choose
to give red envelopes stuffed with cash at the reception area to wish the
couple a happy marriage.

Food will be served about one hour from the start of the reception, with
a brief introduction of the bride, groom, and their family members.
About halfway through the banquet, the bride and the groom will make
their way around the tables, making toast with their guests and thanking
them for their attendance.

During the banquet, the guests may slap their chopsticks or utensils on
their plates to coerce the bride and groom to display their affection for
one another, typically to get them to kiss. Tricks may be played on the
bride and groom throughout the night. (I'm not encouraging any of you to
do so…)

At the end of the night after the cake has been cut and served, the couple
and their parents will be at the door, thanking all their guests as
they leave.



  1. Teresa Nguyen said,

    Hi, my fiance and I are planning our wedding and want to get some feedback. We will be doing a semi traditional vietnamese wedding. There are few good chinese restaurants that can cater such an event. One of our option is to go through a caterer, but they do not carry this kind of menu. They suggested that we get recipes for these dishes so they will be able to prepare them. Is it possible we can get these recipes and suggestions on other dishes not mentioned above, so we can celebrate our wedding like we plan to? Thanks, and we would greatly appreciate it.

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