Another side to the Metropolis that never sleeps - Cheung Chau Bun Festival
Hong Kong can be more than a quick stopover during your Far Eastern travels.
Beyond shiny skyscrapers and bustling banks are traces of tradition and stories steeped in history - sometimes you have to look further than air conditioned malls to discover those cultural gems. Food is a huge part of Hong Kong’s cultural tapestry - oftentimes dishes tell a story, whether it be about tradition, wit, or care. In this dense city, you are almost always within sight, smell, and sound of fantastic local eats. From springy noodles and quick street food to dessert delicacies for the sweet toothed, Hong Kong is a Foodie Adventurer’s heaven and a Culture Junkie’s playground.
Food culture has an irreplaceable spot in the hearts of Hong Kongers - so much so that it’s impossible to think of a festival or festivity that doesn’t revolve around food. The Cheung Chau Bun Festival is precisely a tradition that still lives today, at the crux of which is a resilient food story. The five day Bun Festival draws thousands of visitors from around the world to the chilled out island of Cheng Chau. A short ferry ride away from the hectic city, Cheng Chau is a different place altogether and almost feels like stepping into a bygone era of miniature Hong Kong.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival has its origins in the late Qing dynasty when the island was plagued and thousands lost their lives to disease. Legend has it that superstitious islanders pleaded god Pak Tai to drive away the evil spirits that were diseasing the island and built an altar in front of Pak Tai Temple. Modern festivities are said to have stemmed from this tale. Rituals, parades, lion dances, the beating of drums, and a thrilling bun scrambling competition are not to be missed.
The star of the festival is the symbolic “lucky bun” or “ping on bun”, which translates to “peace bun”. These vegan parcels of yum were invented in the hopes of bringing to the island peace and fortune at the time of the epidemic. Locals go veggie during the festival, and no doubt these lucky buns are a popular snack. The fluffy morsels are filled with sweet red bean, sesame, or lotus paste - a must try. The lucky buns are not only delicious - they play the leading role in the festival’s world renown bun scrambling competition. Male and female climbers scramble up 14 metre tall towers flecked with 9,000 buns. The higher the bun, the more points it worth - after three minutes of intense heat the competitor with the highest points are crowned King and Queen of the Buns!
One of this Cheung Chau festival’s unique sights is Piu Sik, or “Floating Colours" parade. The carnival like festivity is another token of the event’s numerous Taoist traditions. During the plague, children were costumed as deities and paraded through the narrow streets of the island to ward off evil spirits. The colourful parade is a reenactment of this old ritual and whimsical sight to behold. Children dressed as deities appear to levitate above keen crowds, accompanied by the noisy rhythm of gongs and lively lion dancers.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival is unique because of its tradition and folklore, but continues to evolve with the times. The 9,000 buns that dot the giant towers aren’t gone to waste as they are in fact imitation buns. Traditionally stamped with the Chinese Character for “peace”, some lucky buns now bear the logos of witty companies. Similarly, the children of the “Floating Colours Parade” aren’t only dressed as deities. Modern creativity sees costumes for fashionable celebrities and local sports stars decorate the cheerful parade.
The festival is a precious window that reveals another side to Hong Kong and its multi-faceted culture. Past its iconic cityscape and alluring shopping streets are stories of history, culture, and food waiting to be discovered by those in search of adventure. You don’t have to let go of creature comforts or modern luxuries to come across great finds. Hong Kong is a meeting point between new and old, the best go both worlds. Next time you visit this distinctive city why not venture off the beaten track, and discover another Hong Kong?
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