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Poon Choi (pronounced: pun4 coi3), also known as pun choi or Big Bowl Feast, is a traditional type of dish originating from Hong Kong village Cantonese cuisine. It may also be found in different parts of Hong Kong. It is served in wooden, porcelain or metal basins.
- 1 Origin
- 2 Ingredients
- 3 Cultural aspects
- 4 Modern Poon Choi
- 5 See also
- 6 References
It was said that Poon Choi was invented during the late Song Dynasty. When Mongol troops invaded Song China, the young Emperor fled to the area around Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. To serve the Emperor as well as his army, the locals collected all their best food available, cooked it, and because there were not enough containers, put the resulting dishes in wooden washbasins. In this way, Poon Choi was invented.
In 2003, a million Poon Choi feast was held in the former Kai Tak airport. It opened 660 tables, seats 12 people per table, together with the staff, a total of nearly ten thousand people participated. It broke the world record of the highest number of people gathered eating Poon Choi.
Association with New Territories
Poon Choi was an invention of early settlers in New Territories, who had been driven south of the mainland by a series of barbarian invasions in China between the 13th to 17th centuries. The first Poon Choi was made by the settlers when the emperor’s generals in Song Dynasty passed through the New Territories Area’s village. So New Territories is Poon Choi’s birthplace, and residents in villages regarded Poon Choi, which was invented by their ancestors as the village’s traditional dish.
Walled village culture is well preserved in New Territories. As Poon Choi is a large portioned dish which suitable for a communal meal, Poon Choi becomes a unique dish, which is served whenever there are rituals, weddings, festivals, ancestor worships, and other ocal events as a village dining culture. Poon Choi gradually becomes traditional dish of walled villages.
Poon Choi includes ingredients such as pork, beef, lamb, chicken, duck, abalone, ginseng, shark fin, fish maw, prawn, crab, dried mushroom, fishballs, squid, dried eel, dried shrimp, pigskin, beancurd and Chinese radish.
Due to the respect villagers pay to their guests, there is a relatively small amount of vegetables in Poon Choi. To walled villagers, vegetables are not valuable ingredients. To offer the best for their important annual events, villagers prefer meat and seafood in Poon Choi as respect for the important event.
Preparation of ingredients
Needs 3 days for preparation
The first day: up to the mountain, chop firewood
In ancient times, did not have liquefied petroleum gas, plenty of firewood must be prepared in order to cook all the food. Today, there are still many walled villages that adhere to the use of wood for fuel, because the walled village residents feel the liquefied petroleum gas is less strong and doesn't last as long as firewood temperature. They believe that only a wood fire can cook the real flavor of the dish.
The second day: Buy plenty of fresh ingredients
The walled village Poon Choi uses fresh ingredients, rarely frozen or chilled products. Mostly because the rural community simply does not have refrigerators. Furthermore, only fresh ingredients can produce fresh and delicious traditional Poon Choi. The traditional Poon Choi used for the ancestral halls festive banquet. They feel that it is disrespectful to their ancestors and gods if canned, frozen, or ready-to-eat products are being used.
The third day: Stewed pork
It takes a full day to achieve the desired taste in the pork so the stewed pork starts early in the morning. Ancients cooked the Weitou pork for at least 10 hours in order for the ‘half fat-thin’ pork bellies to tender.
A few decades ago, Poon Choi was considered a test for chefs in that the wooden stove's long cooking time, requiring a great deal of patience and stove control.
Why should Poon Choi prepare in layers?
Poon Choi is special in that it is composed of many layers of different ingredients. It is also eaten layer by layer instead of "stirring everything up", but impatient diners may snatch up the popular daikon radish at the bottom first using shared chopsticks.
Ingredients such as Chinese radishes, pigskins and bean curd are place in the bottom of the container. In the middle of the dish, there are usually pork and Chinese dried mushroom. On the upper part of Poon Choi, meat, seafood and rare ingredients like abalone and sea cucumber are found.
It contributes to the attractiveness of the Poon Choi on the surface. Dried noodles with egg will be put on top to symbolize a crown.
Relatively dry ingredients such as seafood are placed on the top while other ingredients, which can absorb sauce well, are assigned in the bottom of the basin. This allows sauces to flow down to the bottom of the basin as people start eating from the top. This attentive design of layering the ingredients contributes to the taste of the whole dish.
It is often served during religious rituals, festivals, special occasions and wedding banquets in open area of villages. From the 1990s, Poon Choi became popular among urban dwellers and can also be enjoyed at many Cantonese restaurants in the autumn and winter or on special occasions throughout the year.
Cultural values to walled villages
1. Gratefulness to ancestors
For ingredients used in Poon Choi, villagers will prepare the best and freshest ingredients, pay respects to their ancestors, as the Poon Choi will be used for ancestors worship. These behaviors implies the character of traditional Chinese People, which is keep vista and gratefulness towards ancestors, and have the reputation of being very hospitable.
2. Team work and unity
Poon Choi requires lots of manpower to prepare ingredients and cook. So whenever there are any events, the respectful villagers will become the main chef of making Poon Choi, leading the rest of the village to do the preparation. In other words, cooking Poon Choi becomes teamwork among villagers, which unite all the locals in the village.
3. Family lineages
It is also noticeable that the cooking method of Poon Choi in different walled villages will have differences due to own custom. And the recipes of Poon Choi of every villager are keeping secret and will not be enclose to public who are not belong to the village. The Recipe is regarded as an inheritance of the village and will be passed from villagers to villagers or father to son in generations. Therefore Poon Choi acts as a symbol of the continuity of the village and local family lineages with the recipe passing on and on.
Having Poon Choi shows equality that the rich and the poor eat Poon Choi together. There is no complicated etiquette while eating Poon Choi, everyone can join even they are rich or poor.
If villagers do not hold Poon Choi feast, which means the village would not admit this marriage.
A traditional Poon Choi is served in a big wooden basin, each table has a basin of Poon Choi, and every people of the table take food from that basin. Traditionally, people eat Poon Choi layer by layer, from the top to the bottom.
How should we eat? Layer by layer or use the chopsticks to ‘search’ the food at the bottom?
Now, we can use the ‘Gun Fai’ (clean chopsticks just for moving food from basin to personal bowl) to get the food, it is more hygienic and can get the food at the bottom. It's now more acceptable to use chopstick to mix and overturn the food, and it is a symbolic meaning: pulling each other to work together and turn the fortune and luck coming to them.
Modern Poon Choi
Reasons of getting popular
Poon Choi are becoming more and more popular, one of the reasons is the promotion of the mass media, they promote and publicize Poon Choi, for example, the 1997 large-scale Poon Choi banquet, and the Poon Choi banquet hold by Heung Yee Kuk was widely reported by the mass media. Another reason is the economic downturn. Hong Kong people think Poon Choi contain a large amount of ingredients, which cost a lower price than other restaurants. Poon Choi is a traditional cuisine of Hong Kong walled villages, it represented Hong Kong’s food culture and creativity. Due to the favorites have been changed in past decades, the ingredients in Poon Choi becomes diversified, and more suitable for people.
Nowadays, different Poon Choi stores are launched in the urban districts. In order to maintain their competitiveness, stores would provide conveniences and varieties to fulfill the consumers’ needs and wants. Stores would create Poon Choi’s name with meaning as a gimmick also to attract people. Mostly, the name is a symbolic of fortune.
In the past, citizens have to take time to visit the walled village in order to taste Poon Choi. It would be a valuable opportunity for them as they are living in a hustle and bustle city.
Nowadays, eating Poon Choi is not only the right of people living walled village people. During festival, urban citizens could enjoy Poon Choi from ubiquitous Chinese fast food restaurant, such as Café de Coral, Fairwood. Even though it is not in festivals, residents could also purchase Poon Choi in some specialized stores, like 八味香帝皇盆菜專門店, 洪運正宗盆菜, etc. Therefore, citizens could have Poon Choi anywhere and anytime.
Delivery service is provided so that the stores could ensure that all people, especially for those live far away could enjoy Poon Choi and purchase Poon Choi from their stores. When there are activities organized by local organizations or the government, such as a million Poon Choi feast, delivery service is no doubt convenient to them. As the customers have ordered a bulk amount, the stores would give discounts or provide free materials, like table, gas stove, tissue, together with the Poon Choi.
Allowing order by phone or online would enable customers to order Poon Choi anywhere and anytime. It could eliminate customers’ visiting time to the stores. The stores could immediately start preparation once they have received the order and therefore efficiency could be reinforced.
While looking at the leaflet, there are usually big, medium and small sizes for people to choose. With standard quantities and price, people could determine which size they have to order with ease. It could also reduce the conflicts between the store and customers when there is precise standardization. The store could also standardize the production process with certain sizes only.
At present, stores would use aluminum foil, a material to maintain warmness, to wrap the Poon Choi. Together with a large plastic bag which with handles to bear the weight of Poon Choi. Consequently, Poon Choi could be taken away with one hand only. No doubt it could abate the burden to people.
Different from traditional reheated method, nowadays restaurants would place a portable gas stove to warm the Poon Choi before it is served. It could maintain warmness continuously and hence guarantee the quality and taste of the Poon Choi.
In the past, people ate Poon Choi with rice only and now they have more choices. They could choose several carbohydrates, like noodles, udon etc. It all depends on the usual eating habit of the customers.
Providing variety of price, allow people to choose different prices with diversity of delicacies. If someone could afford a relatively high price, luxurious food would be served, such as abalones, shark fin, oyster. Undoubtedly, it could fulfill different people’s wants, like someone would prefer having a reasonable price, while someone would prefer luxurious Poon Choi to gain honor by showing they are generous and wealthy.
Hong Kong as an international hub, providing variety of flavor is needed. To take some examples, Japanese Poon Choi, curry Poon Choi, Western Poon Choi, vegetarian Poon Choi are provided in a bid to fulfill different needs and wants of customers. It could satisfy both locals and tourists’ flavor for sure.
- "What Is Poon Choi?". wisegeek.com. Retrieved 12-8-2012.
- simple arithmetic 660 x 12 = 7920
- "香港举行"万人盆菜宴" 打破世界纪录(图)".
- "Pun Choi Is Purely Hong Kong (The Wall Street Journal)".
- Siu Chui Yi (23-9-2010). "Poon Choi (Giant Basin Feast) - intangible heritage in Hong Kong". wordpress.com.com. Retrieved 12-8-2012.
- "元朗六鄉 + 屯門".
- "長年「 盤滿缽滿 」食 「 盆菜 」".
- Tai, zuo zhe Wu Meimei ; zhu bian Li (2006). Xianggang jie qing feng su mei shi : pen cai, jiu da gui, su cai (Chu ban. ed.). [Xianggang]: Zhonghua wen jiao jiao liu fu wu zhong xin. ISBN 988-98915-1-4.
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