Recipe – Chinese

Chinese Birthday Noodles

One one’s birthday, everybody present at the celebration must eat long egg noodles such as those pictured to the right.  It can be seasoned with simple substances such as soy sauce, onions, or chicken, but there must be no other excessive particles such as meat chunks or other vegetables present in this particular dish.

My maternal grandfather told this tradition to me, though as a family had been practicing this more or less since I was a young child.  He explained that each facet of the dish was symbolic; for this reason it was important that no corners were cut or exceptions made.  Other dishes could be ordered or consumed at the same meal if desired, but it was imperative that this was ordered and eaten by every individual present.  The long, continuous nature of the noodles themselves represent a long and fruitful life.  The eggs in the noodles are symbolic of fertility, prosperousness, and harmony.  By eating them on his birthday, an individual in a way prepares himself to receive them in the coming year.  When all the dinner guests eat these noodles as well, they actively partake in the process of wishing these things upon the individual.  Flavorings and meats must be present but kept simple; this is representative of an ideal life which is both interesting but contains nothing in excess – the life the individual will hopefully live in the ensuing year.

I had known about this tradition for as long as I can remember.  Every birthday I have celebrated with my family has been celebrated with relatively plain egg noodles.  Even my father’s side of the family knows of this tradition.  This would suggest that it is old and well established, as my maternal and paternal grandfathers are from significantly different parts of China.  My paternal grandfather is nearly ninety-three years of age and comes from the rural Cantonese area of China.  My maternal grandfather is seventy-eight and lived in the more urban Mandarin area, before moving to Taiwan and eventually coming to the United States.  Both came to the United States when they were in their twenties.  This tradition is therefore somewhat puzzling; because although it would seem to be rooted in antiquity, individual birthdays are rarely celebrated in China.  However, a little research reconciled these two facts.  Everybody celebrates their birthday in China on Chinese New Year; furthermore individual birthdays after sixty are commonly celebrated.  These noodles are eaten on both these occasions.  Furthermore, the symbolic nature of long noodles and eggs are longstanding in Chinese culture.

This tradition was noted briefly by David R. Knechtges in his article “A Literary Feast: Food in Early Chinese Literature.”  The paragraph mentioning these noodles was on page 54 in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 106, No. 1.