Friday, May 15, 2009

Night at the (New) Marigold

Tina & Alan's Wedding Banquet
(or Lessons in All You Can Eat)

Some people believe that going All You Can Eat is good value - some like the variety, some like the price. In some ways, attending a traditional Chinese Wedding Banquet is a little like All You Can Eat.

At Tina & Alan's wedding banquet, which took place last Sunday night at the New Marigold in Chinatown, I ate more than I did when we recently sampled the fare at the Central Coast RSL. There, it appears, I was quite restrained. I ate a wide variety of dishes but, with each forkful, I really considered whether every morsel that I put into my mouth was worth the space in my stomach. I knew there was a lot more food than I could ever conceivably fit in at one sitting.

Which leaves me asking why that night, I ate till I literally could eat no more (and yes, in good old Chinese tradition, we took home the leftovers)!

We know that a Wedding is a cause for celebration. Every family wants to show their happiness at the union of two people who were fortunate enough to meet and fall in love. A traditional Wedding Banquet contains 8 dishes - eight because the Cantonese word sounds like the word for "good luck". But there is also the great tradition of giving your children the best - perhaps that is why there were 12 courses on Sunday night's menu!

The evening starts promisingly with empty stomachs and empty dishes taunting the guests who, knowing what they're in for, have starved themselves in anticipation.

The MC assured us that each dish was specially selected as it was symbolic of one or more aspects of a good union.

Thanks to a little googling and L. K. Yee, ( ) I can also reveal the following:

The lobster (or dragon) symbolising the man, the chicken (or phoenix) symbolising the woman; having both representing balance in the new relationship. Also, the Cantonese word for Fried Chicken sounds like "good life".

Roast pork is the symbol of purity, Shark's Fin Soup (as the principle ingredient is quite expensive and illegal to harvest) symbolises wealth.

Serving fish indicates hope that the couple will experience a life together with abundance because “fish”" sounds like “plentiful” in Chinese" not only in financial wealth but progeny. (Having witnessed our fervent photography of all the dishes served, our waiter expertly dissected our whole fish then reassembled the head, tail and fins to create the decoration below!) Noodles served at the end symbolise longevity because noodles come in long, long strands.

The rice is served at the end because no one needs to eat it, indicating the hosts are wealthy enough to provide plenty of protein.

Sweet Red Bean Soup and Sweet Cakes are for wishing the newlyweds a sweet life. In addition, the hot sweet red bean soup should contain lotus seeds (lian zi) and a bark-like vegetable (bak hop)because together, the words sound like "wishing the newlyweds a hundred years of togetherness".

But there was also crab claw, scallops, whole baby abalone, fresh fruit and wedding cake (purple taro, not chocolate!) along with tea, red & white wine and softdrinks!

So aside from being a visual feast (everything tasted as good as it looked), why did I eat beyond my normal capacity? I believe it's because at a buffet, you serve yourself - you know when you've had enough and can eat at your own pace.

At the wedding banquet, you are at the mercy of the kitchen and then the waiter. The kitchen prepares everything whole, regardless of the number of people at the table. The waiter's job is to divide the contents of the serving dish into equal quantities determined by the number of diners at each table to ensure that no one goes without! Who could send food uneaten back to the kitchen at a wedding banquet?! So, in spite of all logical reasoning, we ate and ate and ate and ate.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why All You Can Eat has nothing on the Chinese Wedding Banquet!


  1. Oh my! I've been waiting for this blog...unbelievable. I LOVE the Chinese traditions and this re-inforces why! Yum Yum .. wish I was invited! Tee hee hee.

  2. Me too, we could have done with another stomach, eheh!

  3. Totally agree...we suffered a worse fate by having a Mothers day Steam Boat for lunch before the wedding. It's all in the name of good food!!

  4. Hey what happened to all the other dishes? I swear there was much more than that! =P Congrats to the lovely couple.

  5. I've lost count of the number of Chinese wedding banquets I've attended. And I loved every single one! The food is always good - and so similar to this wedding. Nice!

  6. I have never been to a proper Chinese wedding banquet but I've heard so much about them! That sounds wonderful and I didn't realise that about the rice being served at the end!