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Culture note: lamb tradition in China

Actually, I think I should really define this title. Cooking a whole lamb is one of the traditional cultural symbols in my ethnic group – the Hui . Phew… :)

The Hui Ethnic Group in China

It is said that about 1500 years ago, many traders from Persia and Arabic countries came to China, started settling along the Silk Road , and eventually married the locals. This is how the Hui ethnic group emerged.

The Hui ethnic group is not necessarily distinguished by its (islamic) religious beliefs, but rather by its customs, particularly when it comes to food.

And lamb is one of the most important traditional cultural symbols of the Hui ethnic group.

As I mentioned before, I have never been a big fan of meat, but some lamb dishes were my favorite, for example, the toothpick lamb dish , and the lamb liver salad . … These are … probably all I can take. Picky me. :)

Lamb and Chinese Ethnic Groups

But I did not realize how important lamb is in Hui’s custom until I was much older, after my grandpa passed away. The family organized a big memorial service and they ordered a whole lamb for people to eat afterwards -- I later heard that this was done for showing respect to my grandpa. My big cousin brother was the chef, I was there helping in the kitchen. He divided the lamb into different parts and cooked them into different dishes.

So, having a whole’ lamb is a traditional way of showing respect to be-loved ones who passed away. I am not sure whether this custom is shared by Hui people everywhere in China, but it is certainly so in Northeast China .

As a result, there are many different recipes for cooking lamb and different parts of the lamb in Chinese Hui cuisine . In fact, it is said that many lamb dishes in Chinese cuisine have their origin in the Hui ethnic group.

If you ever go to a Hui restaurant in China, you will find a huge variety of lamb dishes in the menu. And if you ever come visit middle China, the areas surrounding the Silk Road, or West China, you will see that the recipes become even richer.

For example, in Xi’an, there is a famous street called ‘Hui food street’, there you can have pure lamb soup with steamed bread soaking inside — you cannot get it from anywhere else. People say even you are closer to Hui’s area, you can already smell lamb. Ha…

I actually don’t really know a lot of lamb recipes — a shame, but I will cook some more of my favorite ones, and write them down here. :))

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