Logo

What is Flavor and Fortune?
How do I subscribe?
How do I get past issues?
How do I advertise?
How do I contact the editor?

Connect me to:
Home
Articles
Book reviews
Letters to the Editor
Newmans News and Notes
Recipes
Restaurant reviews

Article Index (all years, slow)
Article Index (2019)
Article Index (last 2 years)
Things others say
Related Links

Log In...
New User...
All Users...

Ao Yao People in Huala Village

by Huang Heyu

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Fall Volume: 2009 Issue: 16(3) page(s): 5, 6, 7, 15, and 31


The Yao, one of China's ethnic national minority populations, live in the mountainous communities of four south China provinces. These are Hunan, Yunnan, Guangdong, and Guizhou, and they live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Five branches of Yao people live in Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County north of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. They are known as Ao Yao, Pan Yao, Cha Shan Yao, Shan Zi Yao and Hua Lan Yao. At one time they spoke different dialects and wore different clothes, but now they have many similar customs and religious beliefs.

Ancestors of the Ao Yao branch of the Yao people first migrated from Guizhou to Guangxi. After that, because of the need for more land, they scattered to regions around Guiping and Pingnan. Now, some of the offspring of the Ao Yao live in Hualu village in the Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County.

In the past, the mountains around this village cut villagers off from the rest of the world. However, after the founding of the People's Republic of China, they have more contact with both Zhuang and Han peoples. Because locals in these areas only speak the Zhuang language and do not know the Yao language, some customs have changed, and are now more similar to those of the Zhuang and the Han than they were before. Also, at one time, these particular Yao people were regarded as Zhuang. However, the Government, based on their historical origin and psychological needs, reconsidered and now consider them as Ao Yao.

I have an important question about the villagers that is: Whether village children and adults are aware of their identity as Ao Yao. When I asked them about their language, clothing, eating characteristics, and other ethnic distinctions, they could not clearly make any distinctions. For them, ethnic identities are exhibitions people go to see in a museum. Over time, they and other Chinese ethnic groups are changing their language and customs. So another question I had was: Are the Ao Yao changing their behaviors?

As an offspring of an Ao Yao mother and a Han father, I am supposed to know both my maternal and paternal ethnicity and cultural backgrounds. Truth be told, I know very little about my Yao heritage. Why is that? I was born and grew up in Liu Zhou which has a flourishing business and a heavy industrial area. It is in the Guangzi Zhuang Autonomous Region. As I consider myself totally Han now, the customs and dietary culture of the Ao Yao really are unknown to me.

Hualu village is the hometown of my grandmother. Several decades ago, with my grandfather, she migrated to Liuzhou city in order for both to find jobs. Her family name is Pan, a name common to many Ao Yao people. The majority of her Pan relatives still reside in the Hualu Village. So in January 2009, I began my research in the Hualu village with a basic aim, to find out about food production and consumption there. It was also to research the Ao Yao people's dietary culture.

What did I learn? In 1985, this Hualu village carried out a household responsibility contract system. They took part in collective productive labor, a responsibility system on land owned by the government. They did farming, forestry, animal husbandry, and fishing. They earned money linked to their output, and they managed their own affairs. They were enthused by this system.

At the foot of the mountains there were fewer fields, so they turned mountain slopes into terraced fields. There, they planted rice, sweet potatoes, taro, corn, potatoes, and cassava. The villagers were mainly depending on rain for the growing of their crops. Cows and horses were important to them as their cows plowed their fields and horses transported their goods. Agricultural mechanization in this village did not exist, but now it is a long-term objective.

The Yao, one of China's ethnic national minority populations, live in the mountainous communities of four south China provinces. These are Hunan, Yunnan, Guangdong, and Guizhou, and they live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Five branches of Yao people live in Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County north of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. They are known as Ao Yao, Pan Yao, Cha Shan Yao, Shan Zi Yao and Hua Lan Yao. At one time they spoke different dialects and wore different clothes, but now they have many similar customs and religious beliefs.

Ancestors of the Ao Yao branch of the Yao people first migrated from Guizhou to Guangxi. After that, because of need for more land, they scattered to regions around Guiping and Pingnan. Now, some of the offspring of the Ao Yao live in Hualu village in the Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County.

In the past, the mountains around this village cut villagers off from the rest of the world. However, after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, they have more contact with both Zhuang and Han peoples. Because locals in these areas only speak the Zhuang language and do not know the Yao language, some customs have changed; they are now more similar to those of the Zhuang and the Han than they were before. Also, at one time, these particular Yao people were regarded as Zhuang. However, the Government, based on their historical origin and psychological needs, reconsidered and now consider them as Ao Yao.

I have an important question about the villagers. That was whether village children and adults are aware of their identity as Ao Yao. When I asked them about their language, clothing, eating characteristics, and other ethnic distinctions, they could not clearly make any distinctions. For them, ethnic identities are exhibitions people go to see in a museum. Over time, they and other Chinese ethnic groups are changing their language and customs. So another question I had was: Are the Ao Yao changing their behaviors?

As an offspring of an Ao Yao mother and a Han father, I am supposed to know both my maternal and my paternal ethnicity and cultural backgrounds. Truth be told, I know very little about my Yao heritage. Why is that? I was born and grew up in Liu Zhou which has a flourishing business and a heavy industrial area. It is in the Guangzi Zhuang Autonomous Region. As I consider myself totally Han now, the customs and dietary culture of the Ao Yao really are unknown to me.

Hualu village is the hometown of my grandmother. Several decades ago, with my grandfather, she migrated to Liuzhou city in order for both to find jobs. Her family name is Pan, a name common to many Ao Yao people, and the majority of her Pan relatives still reside in the Hualu Village.

In January 2009, I began my research in the Hualu village. My basic aim was to find out about food production and consumption there. It was also to research the Ao Yao people’s dietary culture.

What did I learn? In 1985, this Hualu village carried out a household responsibility contract system. They took part in collective productive labor, a responsibility system on land owned by the government. They did farming, forestry, animal husbandry, and fishing. They earned money linked to their output, and they managed their own affairs. They were enthused by this system.

At the foot of the mountains there were fewer fields, so they turned mountain slopes into terraced fields. There, they planted rice, sweet potatoes, taro, corn, potatoes, and cassava. The villagers were mainly depending on rain for the growing of their crops. Cows and horses were important to them as their cows plowed their fields and their horses transported their goods. Agricultural mechanization in this village did not exist, but now is a long-term objective.

Each day, villagers ate congee in the morning and at noon. Their congee they served with pickled vegetables. At dinner, they ate rice and various stir-fry dishes made with fresh vegetables and meat. The vegetables were selected from what they grew, some were fresh and some were pickled. Because of limited availability, pickled vegetables were indispensable in the daily lives of the villagers. They prepare many of them by salting them heavily to preserve them for later use.

In the past, Yao people who lived in these mountains lacked salt and oil. Producing pickled vegetables decreased their need for oil required for cooking and reduced their need for making a fire to cook with. Today, even though living standards have improved, as a tradition and a hobby, pickle production and consumption remains high. I found it interesting that the villagers view about a healthy diet is different from that of the neighboring city dwellers. People in town prefer to eat coarse grains for health. They consider sweet potatoes, corn, and taro as healthy foods. These very foods are everywhere in the mountains, but the Ao Yao and others living nearby do not seem to eat them. Ao Yao villagers consider only rice delicious; they think sweet potatoes ,corn, and taro not good tasting. They do raise these vegetables, but only to feed their pigs. Their diet of rice and congee they deem one of high-quality.

While every family in the village does raise at least one pig, they only kill a pig for festivals, especially for Chinese New Year. In the past, people ate meat monthly or as infrequently as once in a year. Now they can buy meat in the village or the market town., and they do.

My previous impression was that in the mountains there were lots of wild animals and that the Ao Yao were good at hunting. This is no longer true. Although the mountains still have some wild animals, mainly mice, mountain frogs, and wild boars, they are no longer there in quantity. That, and a few years ago all shotguns were confiscated by the local government, so using them for hunting is history. Some young people do have fun seizing wild animals. In winter they do enjoy catching mice, and in summer they enjoy fishing.

The water in the village is mountain spring water. It is cool and of good quality. Once the whole village bought water communally. Now each family built a pool in the mountains and they use plastic pipe to divert water to their individual houses. Once oil was lacking in their’ daily life; that was when production teams annually distributed some six grams or one teaspoon for each person. With this minuscule amount, cooking with oil was a luxury. Their lack of oil made it easy for them to frequently feel hungry. Now, families grow their own oil crops including peanuts and they raise tea trees. From them, they harvest enough peanut oil and tea tree oil to last more than a year.

Once wine was also rare. Actually, there was almost no rice wine, only cassava wine and cane wine were in good supply. Now, with abundant grain, families brew rice wine at home and if what they make is insufficient, they buy more in the marketplace. This is important to them because Ao Yao people love to drink; and they like to drink their wine from a bowl. What I found was, at meals men first filled their bowls with wine. They did drink it until they thought they had enough. Then they began to have rice or congee from those very same bowls. The women there rarely drank any wine.

Villagers now plant tea on the hillsides. The variety they drink is made similar to that found in the Sichuan Province. The output is not high and the quality is not good, probably because they shove pruning grass around the tea crop. They say they have no need for any specific application of fertilizer. When making their tea, they use a large kettle to boil water and they put a handful of tea leaves into it. Drinking tea this way is rather rough and bold. It is quite different from the way Chinese people usually drink tea. The Chinese people usually drink their tea as an artistic treat. They use good varieties of tea, and they use a tea set. In this village, they drink tea as they drink water, in any glass or cup available.

Nearly every article about the diet of the Yao people speaks about their pickled birds. They say that the Yao like to eat all manner of fowl salting their birds or pickling them for six months or more; then they eat or cook and then eat them. In the past, the villagers cooked their birds and other meats this way. Older people told me about recipes for doing this, but also told me that they do not prepare them that way any more.

In the past, in winter many birds traveled from the north so villagers set traps to catch them. One trap was a basin with a glue-like material around its edge. The basins had a little water in them and when the birds stopped to take a drink, they would stick to the glue. The people then killed them and dried them mixed with rice flour and salt., and then pressed them and put them in jars. They did not eat them for at least one month, and they could eat them uncooked. Fish and meat were preserved this way, too.

When asked why they no longer preserve their animal protein this way, they advise that fresh meat can be purchased now and the traditional way to preserve it and other foods is no longer needed. With the development of a market economy and accelerated distribution of food commodities, these older traditional cooking methods have, for the most part, disappeared.

In the past, Ao Yao considered eating dog meat an important taboo. It was their folk belief that they had an ancestor, a dog known as Panhu. In the Hualu village I visited, I saw two families cooking dog when entertaining their guests. When I asked whether they knew of the taboo about not eating dog, their answer was negative. These villagers already forgot this ancient food taboo. By chance, when I arrived at this village, I saw a family doing a sacrifice for their ancestors, and I photographed it. It included a cooked chicken, a piece of cooked meat, three bowls of rice, three glasses of wine, some white glutinous rice cakes, and some seasonal fresh fruit. The family killed a pig, made a table of food including braised pork, braised pork chops, barbecued pork, sauteed pork slices, braised pig head, braised pigs knuckle, blood and rice in intestines, plain boiled chicken, green vegetables, and some dried bamboo shoots.

Eating etiquette in this Ao Yao village is now more random and there are fewer protocols. For example, there is no specific requirement about primary and secondary seats, no seating differences between young and old, nor any between men and women. The villagers even let me choose my own seat. In fact, during the meal, people did not eat in a solemn way as some books have described was their custom.

When I questioned these villagers about several unique Yao flavors including their eating of pickled birds, preserved ham, three-color rice, sheep blood cake, long life soup, rice in pig intestine, sheep bone dumplings, bamboo shoots filled with meat, mushroom, leek, and rice, and about oil tea that I had read about in the Records of Yao People’s Customs book by Liu Guangyuan (2007), they did not know a lot about them. Because the book was telling about Yao food all around China, there can be and are differences from one place to another, but they knew almost none of them.

The villagers here were most interested in learning about Yao cuisine, particularly that which mentioned their own Ao Yao style of food. They wanted to find out what is similar and that which is different. They passed the book around and did discuss it with each other for a long time.

Thus, I believe that the Ao Yao, though they do not know much about their dietary heritage, are anxious to learn about it. My question is, will they re-adapt to their earlier customs? I doubt it because they can easily find foods in the marketplace. These are easier to access and easier to use than what they did in the past.

Below are some characteristic Yao and Ao Yao foods I learned about by doing this research. I hope you make some or all of them, and enjoy so doing and that you enjoy eating them, too.
_____
Huang Heyu was born in Liu Zhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The government considers her a Yao minority based upon her heritage. She is studying for her master's degree specializing in Chinese dietary culture at Zhejiang Gongshang University in Hangzhou, China. There, she concentrates on minority people's dietary culture.
Rice in Intestine
Ingredients:
1 pound sticky rice
1 small intestine of a pig
2 cup of raw pig’s blood
2 scallions, cut in half-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
Preparation:
1. Soak the sticky rice overnight, then cook it for one hour or until soft.
2. Put the cooked rice in a pot, add the pig"s blood, scallions, salt, pepper, oil, and rice wine and mix them.
3. Fill this mixture into a pig's small intestine until it is full then tie both ends with string.
4. Oil an oven-safe dish and put small intestine on it. In a steamer, put this over rapidly boiling water and steam it for ten minutes. Then remove and cut it into two-inch pieces. Serve.
Rice Rolled in Lettuce
Ingredients:
1/2 pound sticky rice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 scallion, cut in half-inch pieces
5 pieces of lettuce
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
Preparation:
1. Cook the sticky rice.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan and then add the vegetable oil. Add the cooked rice and stir-fry it for three minutes before adding the salt and pepper. Continue to stir-fry it another two minutes, then add the chopped scallion pieces. Roll the rice into cakes and put them in a plate.
3. Blanch the lettuce for half a minute, drain and put it into cold water, drain again and set aside.
4. Fill each piece of lettuce in the center with one rice cake and wrap it up. 5. Oil a clean heat-proof dish and place the cakes on it. Steam this by putting it over rapidly boiling water for five minutes. Then serve.
Dried Bamboo Shoots I
Ingredients:
1 bamboo shoot, cut in one inch strips when fresh, then dry them in the sun
1 Tablespoon tea oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
Preparation:
1. Put the dried bamboo shoot strips into rapidly boiling water and simmer them for five minutes.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the tea oil, and then stir-fry the bamboo shoots for three to five minutes. Then add the salt and continue to stir-fry for another two minutes before adding the soy sauce. Then serve.
Braised Pork, Ao Yao Style
Ingredients:
1 pound streaky or belly pork
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Preparation:
1. Boil the streaky pork in hot water for eight or ten minutes. Remove, drain, and set the meat in the sun to dry.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the vegetable oil, and then fry the streaky pork until the color of its surface turn blond.
3. Drain the oil from the streaky pork and cut it in half-inch pieces.
4. Put the pieces of meat n a bowl and add the ginger, salt and soy sauce.
5. Put the bowl on a heat-proof dish over rapidly boiling water and steam for fifteen minutes.
6. Remove the meat slices putting them into a clean bowl, stir, and serve.
Boiled Chicken, Ao Yao Style
Ingredients:
1 whole chicken, about two and a half pounds
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon chopped scallion pieces
1 Tablespoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Preparation:
1. Clean the chicken, put it in a pot of boiling water, reduce the heat and simmer it for fifteen minutes. Take it out and put it in ice water for one minute, remove, and dry the chicken. Then cut it into in small pieces. Put these on a clean plate and reshape them so they look like the original chicken.
2. In a small bowl, make a sauce with the ginger and scallion mixed with the peanut oil, salt and soy sauce.
3. Serve the chicken with the sauce.

                                                                                                                                                       
Flavor and Fortune is a magazine of:

Copyright © 1994-2019 by ISACC, all rights reserved
Address
3 Jefferson Ferry Drive
S. Setauket NY 11720