Traditional Chinese Food - Eight-Treasures Rice For the Chinese New Year

Eight-Treasures Rice (Babaofan) is traditionally served on the 7th day of the 1st month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. This marks the end of the Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year).

This pudding is made from sticky or glutinous rice flavoured with 8 luxurious fruits:

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  • red jujubes (Chinese dates);
  • finely chopped red plums;
  • finely chopped green plums;
  • dried longan pulp;
  • gingko nuts;
  • lotus seeds;
  • lily seeds; and
  • seeds from Job's Tears (sometimes known as Chinese Pearl Barley).

Traditional Chinese Food - Eight-Treasures Rice For the Chinese New Year

Nowadays, you may find some of these items replaced with walnuts, peanuts, raisins, cherries and the like. These are often cheaper and easier to obtain. However, the original recipe has a distinct colour, fragrance and taste so see if you can get an authentic version if you can, even if that means paying a little extra to eat somewhere nice.

Many of the fruits were selected and are prepared to look like jewels. The name however may not originally come from the appearance. See the story below for the alternate explanation.

Babaofan forms a special part of the Spring Festival banquet, often enhanced by a tradition of melting brown sugar over the top with burning alcohol. This tradition is meant to date back to ancient times and evidence from Hunan Province suggests that the dish at least has been around for over 2000 years.

The story tells us that a despotic king, King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty was removed by Eight Scholars (the Eight Treasures) recruited by his neighbour, King Wen of the Western Zhou Dynasty. These scholars apparently burned King Zhou to death and both their number and their method were incorporated by the imperial chefs when they invented this dish.

The Spring Festival is not a good time for visiting China. The festival is very much a family affair and visitors without local friends may well feel left out. Almost every Chinese will try to get home during the period meaning that travel services are swamped, and other services may be limited.

There's no need to worry. You can find Eight-Treasures Rice at most good restaurants throughout the year. The dish is also popular at weddings and, if you are lucky enough to get an invite, then you could well be served this along with lots of other traditional Chinese foods.

Traditional Chinese Food - Eight-Treasures Rice For the Chinese New Year

Ian Ford has lived in China for most of the last 10 years. He is the owner and manager of China Journeys, a UK tour operator offering travel in China with added interest (Registered in England and Wales No. 07014791, ATOL 10236)