Monday, December 27, 2010

Taiwanese Engagement Ceremony: Part 6

Introduction
The First Proposal
Preparation 1
Preparation 2
Engagement Ceremony

Engagement Reception takes place the night of the ceremony. In some ways, this is more important than the wedding reception. While the ceremony involves only immediate family and close friends, the entire village and every acquaintance are invited to the reception. My cousin's engagement reception total 600 people, and this was considered the norm in Southern Taiwan.

Engagement reception is hosted by the bride’s family. Bride and groom sit at the same table with the parents. Rest of seating is assigned according to seniority. Additional red pockets are given to the siblings of the brides now. In return, the bride’s family offers red pockets and cooked chicken thighs tied with red ribbon to each of groom’s friends and younger relatives. Young relative from the bride side will offer napkin or sanitary cloth for the groom’s party, and the groom’s family offers this young person another red pocket. Each helpers and chefs will be given a red pocket by the groom’s family.

A Whole Fish
Menu
The tables are round and seat 10 to 12 people each. The dinner consists of 8, 10, or 12 a la carte dishes (excluding desert), and each dishes have special symbolism of happiness, longevity, and fertility.

The norm is to start with the dragon-phoenix plate: a large cold platter of seafood and festive items, such as jellyfish, fried chicken feet (a.k.a phoenix claws), stewed seaweed, sliced beef, and lobster (a.k.a dragon shrimp). While there are no particular order in which dishes are served, the followings are some of the common dishes:

Shark Fin Soup
Shark's Fin Soup: Despite the environmental impact of eating shark fin, this continues to be a very popular, if not mandatory, dish, because this expensive delicacy represent wealth, and"face" is an important issue.

Lobster in Chinese is "Dragon Shrimp".  Historically, citizens were forbidden to use and possess anything relating to dragon, as the symbolism for Emperor, the Chosen one.  This was a crime punishable by death of the whole family and extended relatives by several degree removed.  As a result, dragon has become an socially desirable and highly sought after symbol of status, class, luck, fortune, and all things that are good.  In addition, red is very desirable and festive colour.  Naturally, lobster, served whole, became a must-have item at any festive banquet.

No idea what this was. Do you?
Peking Duck, and Crab: Desired not only for its delicious taste, but also its beautiful red colour. These items are often served whole to signify plentifulness and completeness.

A pair of Quail or Squab: These birds represent peace and the pair represent the couple.  This is to wish the couple a peaceful life together.

Silkie: Black chicken served whole in medicinal soup. These are delicious and very nutritious.

Beets: a red vegetarian
alternative
Vegetable with Sea Cucumber: This dish is usually served as a stew or soup.  Sea cucumber represents good intention or good heart.

Fish is Served whole. Fish is homophonous to extra or remaining, symbolizing plentifulness.

Drinks: Tea is the standard, and juice and pops for cold beverages.  Hennessy is the alcohol of choice, but wines are becoming increasingly popular.

Desserts: There are several popular choices for desserts.  Sweet Red Bean Soup, Sweet Buns, Mochi cakes, or sweet riceball soup. Popular ingredients include lotus seeds, black sesame, peanuts, sugar, and other sweets.  Each has different symbolism, generally involves happiness, unions, longevity, fertility, luck and etc.

Mochi with black sesame and peanut
Due to the amount of guests and courses, it takes a long time for the kitchen to process this amount of food, meaning the dinner usually takes hours to complete.  In the mean time, the bride and groom with their parents (with alcohol or tea in hands) will go from table to table to thank the guests for coming. In return, the guests will offer words of well wishes and toast the couple.  This is also the time to give out all the red pockets.

Red pockets are given to the siblings of the brides now. In return, the bride’s family offers red pockets and cooked chicken thighs tied with red ribbon to each of groom’s friends and younger relatives. The red boxes that carried groom's gifts are now replaced with gifts from the bride's family. Each helpers and chefs will be given a red pocket by the groom’s family.

The red pocket for the cost of the banquet is given to the bride's family at the end of the dinner, a long with red pocket for the go-between.

Wedding Announcement: A couple days after the engagement, bridal cakes are sent out with the wedding invitation.

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