I love the La Ba festival because I love making the La Ba congee (腊八粥 là bā zhōu), or porridge. It has a very long history, like many things in China. In the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), people did not consume La Ba congee as it was used for worshipping the gods. In the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (386–589 CE), the date of the La Ba Festival was fixed on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. Much later by the time of the Song Dynasty (960–1279), La Ba congee was consumed by both commoners and government officials and aristocrats
In the modern era of the Qing Dynasty (1636–1912), the La Ba Festival was sometimes celebrated as the Spring Festival, and La Ba congee became even more popular. In the imperial court, the emperor and nobles distributed La Ba congee to officials, servants, and others. On the first day of spring the government would hold a ceremony called “Beating the Spring Ox” with the purpose of encouraging farming. Officials would use a colorful club to beat an earthen ox after worshiping the God of Grain. After the ritual, people would compete in grabbing the scattered pieces of the earthen ox, which would dispel pests or ants, and bring them good harvest in farming and abundant production of silk and livestock.
It is said the most “authentic” porridge is made in Northern China, but almost every region in China has its own local recipe for La Ba porridge. Eating hot porridge is warming in cold winter, and the grain and nuts are considered healthy winter fare. The main ingredients are rice and sticky rice but there are many things added to make it special. It can also include sugar, red dates, lotus seeds, walnuts, chestnuts, almonds, longans, hazelnuts, raisins, red beans, peanuts, water caltrops, roseleaf and other special ingredients. These culinary “treasures” gave it an alternative name of eight treasure congee.
The other food feature of the La ba festival is made at this time but not eaten until the New Year celebration. La Ba garlic (腊八蒜 là bā suàn) is an old and popular custom in Beijing. Purple-peel garlic is marinaded with vinegar and a little sugar until the Lunar New Year’s Eve. When the whole family gets together for the dumpling feast, they take out the La Ba garlic which will be crisp, with a vinegary flavor and a green color. Vinegar with the aroma of garlic is the best seasoning for dumplings. This is considered very lucky, as the characters for garlic and calculate are pronounced the same, implying you will calculate wealth.
La Ba Garlic Recipe
Ingredients: 3 garlic, pink color peel 1 cup rice vinegar (brown or white ) 1 tablespoon sugar
Preparation: 1. Buy garlic, better is pink peel. 2. Peel, clean garlic cloves. 3. Add in a closed bottle. Add sugar. 4. Fill in vinegar. Cover. 5. Put in a cold dark place to age. One or two weeks later when the garlic becomes bright green it will be ready to serve. And don’t toss the vinegar! This flavored vinegar is the best for serving with dumplings.