December 24, 2006
Because of our advocacy for issues in Asia and our interest in Asian cultures, we are frequently asked about feasts and celebrations across the vast continent of Asia and the far flung Pacific islands.
Many people are particularly interested in what Asians do at Christmas time, especially given the variation in religions and people.
The first thing that many Americans must realize is that Christmas, for many Asians such as the Chinese, is not at all a religious holiday but a strictly western and retail event. But like Valentines Day, people love a good party and many Chinese exchange gifts, put up decorations and host or participate in a great feast. There is some resistance to this, of course, from the hard core Communists (See:
Still, if you want a meal in a fine Chinese restaurant or hotel in Beijing or Shanghai on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you may have to book a reservation months in advance.
In China, the feast might contain ox penis as a main course because that particular organ of that particular animal is said to give strength (both physical and moral strength).
Dog is also a favorite dish for feasts and celebrations in a large swath of Asia including Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Korea tried to discourage the consumption of dog during the Olympics a few years ago but this was just to placate the western media. If you want dog in Korea on your plate today, just go into a good restaurant and "bark."
Indonesians may choose dog for their feast or pig soaked in blood. Blood dishes including blood pudding also appear in the west, primarily among traditional Englishmen.
Two meats said to taste a lot a like that are favorites among some Pacific Islanders are kawok, or garden rats, cooked with chilies and garlic, and paniki, or bats, cooked in coconut milk.
In the Philippines, the predominantly Catholic country, the Christmas decorations frequently go up as early as September. Many Philipinos take pride that their country has the "world's longest Christmas Season."
We like a few favorite desserts like Filipino bibingka -- an egg-based rice cake topped with grated cheese and coconut and the Portuguese-style rice and fruit cakes served in Bangladesh. Our pal Amina introduced us to Bangladeshi food a long time ago and it can be great, especially during a big celebration like Christmas.
Food at Christmas time across Asia is as different as the varied cultures and peoples in this part of the world. Each nation offers terrific additions to the panoply of goodies at the shmorgasbourg of life!