Tag Archives: blog 4

Monk Pig Swallows the Ginseng Fruit

19 Oct

In the Chinese myth of the Monkey King, there is another type of fruit other than the Immortal Peaches called the Ginseng Fruit. The literally baby-like fruit supposedly gives its consumer the gift of eternal youth. While at the Wu Zhang Temple where they discovered the Ginseng tree, the Monkey King and hog conspire to steal the fruit, since only one fruit is produced from the tree every many thousands of years. In the end, the greedy hog takes the fruit and swallows it in one go. He does acquire eternal youth, but, because he swallowed the Ginseng fruit so quickly, nobody in the myth will ever know the taste of such a fruit in their lifetime.

I believe this is, sadly, quite representative of modern-day eating. People today want to get so much out of their food,such as taste, nutrition, and freshness, yet, people are eating so quickly that they sometimes cannot recall the flavor or texture of the food even one minute after consumption. People are demanding much out of their food while, at the same time, demanding that it be eaten in the shortest time possible. Such is the creation of “fast food”, its popular demand, and the growth of the fast food industry. When people eat fast food, for the most part, they will eat it because it is convenient, not because they are searching for a particular place. (Think: How many times have you settled for whatever fast food chain was in the nearby surrounding area, rather than look for a particular, preferred fast food restaurant to eat at?) If people today were faced with the mysterious Ginseng fruit of eternal youth, I am quite sure that, even then, most people would act like the hog and eat the fruit as quickly as possible to get to the results, forgoing the taste and flavor altogether. Growing up with this myth, I have learned to appreciate my food more.

Tale of a Cake

19 Oct

For as long as I can remember, my family and I would enjoy boxes upon boxes of mooncakes every year during the fall to celebrate the Autumn Moon Festival, which is officially on the date of August 15th of the Chinese calendar.  The Chinese calendar follows the phases of the moon, and the night of August 15th is said to have the brightest full moon of the year.  As with the story of Momotaro and all great myths, the myth to which this holiday is dedicated has taken on many versions, most of which are contradicting.  However, all of them involve a pill or elixir of immortality and tell the story of a woman who now lives on the moon with the power of immortality, a woman also referred to as the Moon Goddess of Immortality.  On August 15th, families gather together to eat mooncakes while admiring the moon at its fullest.

Today, there are many variations of mooncakes; however, the traditional moon cake contains lotus seed paste as well as an egg yolk, which closely resembles the full moon.  Some even have four egg yolks to represent the four phases of the moon.  Imprinted on the top of the mooncake crust are sometimes the Chinese characters for longevity and harmony, as they are important values for the Chinese family and characteristics which are greatly wished for.

After I left for college, my mother sends me mooncake whenever the Autumn Moon Festival comes around.  I like the new flavors that have been more recently invented, but my favorite is still the original lotus seed paste mooncake with egg yolk.

Warning: Mythical Foods May Contain Traces of Empowering Elements

19 Oct

Food has often been used by writers (and others) to hold a certain empowering element in myths. In Momotaro’s story, the mythical food is the millet dumpling. This food enables Momotaro and his companions to take over an island that is full of ogres. The food also serves as the element that unites the heroes and gives them the strength they need to defeat the oni.

Ever since I was a little boy, I was always extremely interested in Greek mythology. This same use of a mythical food as was in Momotaro’s story can be seen there, as well. One example of this is ambrosia. This meal was given to the gods living in Mount Olympus by doves. Ambrosia, in Greek mythology, is quite prevalent. It has been used by Aphrodite in the form of eau de ambrosia to grant her more seductiveness. In addition to this, it is frequently used by other gods and goddesses to not only fully satisfy one’s hunger, but also to confer a sort of grace and immortality.

Both ambrosia and the millet dumplings are mythical foods that serve as devices for different things. The dumplings stand for unity and strength, and the ambrosia stands for immortality and satiety. Food is often used to convey different things in writing, and food in a mythical sense is even more prevalent. I used to think that eating ambrosia (which is delicious, by the way) conferred some sort of special feelings of strength, and I am fairly confident if I were aware of Momotaro’s story and millet dumplings from a younger age, they would also have somewhat of a similar effect.

Dragon Boat Festival

18 Oct

Food is an incredibly important part of the Momotaro myth. Momotaro is created from within a giant peach, and his birth gave him a divine purpose. As he leaves to fulfill his destiny of defeating an island of ogres, his mother gives him millet dumplings, which he uses to convince the spotted dog, the monkey, and the pheasant to help him in his quest. The dumplings help the group conquer the Ogre Island and achieve a mythical status within the story.

In the Chinese myth of Qu Yuan – the wise scholar from ancient China – food also plays an important role. The myth goes that Qu Yuan was a minister in the court of King Chu, but was exiled because other court officials were jealous of his wisdom and ideas. He warned the King of impending attacks from other states and provided strategies for defense, but was paid no attention.

Though a hero to the people, Qu Yuan drowned himself instead of facing a life in exile. The Chu people searched for him in Dragon Boats, and threw Glutinous Rice “tamales” wrapped in bamboo leaves to prevent the fish from eating his body. They loved Qu Yuan and knew he was unrightfully removed from the court, and began the tradition of Duan Wu Jie, or the Dragon Boat Festival, every year to commemorate his death.

I grew up celebrating the festival and eating the “tamales.” I never learned of the purpose of the myth, but to this day people celebrate the day by teaching their kids the myth and unwrapping both savory and sweet rice “tamales.”

Source: http://taoism.about.com/od/holidays/a/Dragon_Boat_Festival.htm

The Immortal Peaches

18 Oct

The story of Momotaro depicts the journey of a brave young man born from a peach. With the millet dumplings his parents packed for him, Momotaro befriends a dog, monkey, and pheasant who fight alongside him against the oni of Oni Island. Upon victory, the heroes split the retrieved treasure amongst themselves and Momotaro returns home safely. In this story, the millet dumplings are portrayed as a mythical food because they initially bring the heroes together and ultimately provide them with the strength to overcome the oni.

Mythical foods are a common characteristic of various cultures. One example is the Chinese myth of the Monkey King. With the sky as his father and earth as his mother, the Monkey King was born out of a rock. Being bold and curious, the Monkey King grew to be very strong and was eventually apprenticed under an elder god who taught him to use various forms of magic, most notably the ability to fly on a Nimbus Cloud. In his pursuit to become stronger, the Monkey King heard of the Jade Emperor’s Immortal Peaches, which take three thousand years to grow and grant its consumers immortality. Flying on his Nimbus Cloud, he snuck into the Jade Palace and ate one of the Emperor’s Peaches, gaining immortality. He soon became one of the strongest warriors of the heavens, using his powers for good and protecting others. To this day, the peach remains a symbol of good health and longevity in Chinese culture, often being used for religious events and given as gifts between family and friends for good luck.

The Allegory of the Forbidden Fruit

18 Oct

Momotaro’s story depicts a food, “millet dumplings,” as being “mythic” as it empowers Momotaro and his three animal companions to conquer an island inhabited by ogres.  He uses the idea of “mythical” or “propagandic” food to tell a story that has a deeper allegoric meaning: a parable.

Something I recently read in the Old Testament for my History of the Jewish bible class closely relates to this topic. In the book of Genesis, there is much discussion about a “forbidden fruit,” which is often represented as an apple. In the story, G-d tells Adam and Eve they are allowed to eat anything in the Garden of Eden that they want, except for the forbidden fruit, which grows on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eventually, Adam and Eve succumb to temptation, and Eve takes a bite of the fruit and gives the rest to her husband. For this they are severely punished, deprived of their innocence and exiled from the Garden of Eden. The mythical quality of the apple and Adam and Eve’s decision to eat it represents the human desire to have something that they know they cannot or should not have. G-d was testing Adam and Eve by forbidding them to eat one specific fruit, and unfortunately they failed the test due to natural human tendencies; such as desiring the forbidden. Had G-d forbade them to eat a different fruit, not an apple but a pear, they would eventually be overcome with temptation and have to try it. Here it is not the food at hand that is significant, but the “mythical” qualities attributed to it.  The story is a metaphor for any indulgence or pleasure that is considered illegal or immoral and potentially dangerous or harmful.

Mythical Food Symbolism

18 Oct

In “Momotaro – Story of the Peach Boy,” the protagonist, Momotaro, is a boy sent from the heavens inside a large peach. When he departs from home to conquer an island inhabited by ogres, his parents cook him millet dumplings, referred to as “suitable food for a warrior on a journey” (Momotaro, 21). On his journey, Momotaro acquires three new companions: the spotted dog, the monkey, and the pheasant, which each wish to accompany Peach-Boy but are at odds with the other animals. Eventually, the three animals are each are initiated in the “warlike expedition” (26) with their consumption of half a millet dumpling and work together to defeat the enemy ogres. The mythical empowerment of the millet dumplings to inspire feelings of camaraderie and strength in the warriors is a key element of the Momotaro tale that appears in every version of the myth.

The mythical symbolism of food as something that promotes a quality is something that still pervades modern culture. For example, the foods eaten during Chinese New Year celebrations today are traditionally chosen for their symbolic meanings. Most of the words for these foods are homonyms – they have the same pronunciation as other words, but different meanings. Whole fish is commonly eaten during Chinese New Year, because it is thought to increase prosperity – its pronunciation is the same as another word meaning “surplus” or “having leftover money.” Mandarin oranges are also eaten, though they are sometimes given as gifts, because they have the meaning of “gold” or “wealth.” Other foods include: glass noodles to increase longevity, whole chicken for completeness, fresh fruit for new beginnings, etc.

Food as a symbol has transcended time and different countries to become a common literary and cultural motif. Whether we are looking at a modern day Chinese New Year feast, or an ancient Japanese myth, we cannot forget the importance of food in these celebrations of culture.