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Gelo: Minority Folk and Their Food

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Fall Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(3) page(s): 13 and 14

This Chinese minority population, now some ten times larger than it was forty years ago, live in at least twenty western counties in the Guizhou Province including those of Liupanshui, Anshun, Dafang, and Bijie, among others. A smaller number live in the Wenshan Zhuang-Miao Autonomous Prefecture in the Yunnan Province, and some do live in the Guangxi Autonomous Region. Smaller numbers live elsewhere in this Province and very few liver in other places.

How many Gelo is an important question because when the 2010 census was taken they said there were some half million or more, but in fact, no one is really sure because the Chinese government classifies some Gelo people as Yi, Miao, or Zhuang and not as Gelo, and many do not know why.

During the Ming Dynasty some Gelo ancestors were called Liao and were descended from the Yelang tribe who were very strong and known to make metal spears and copper cooking vessels. These folk did fight to overthrow feudal groups and foreign invaders along China’s southeastern sea-coastal and they did move around a lot. Their language does differ from place to place, and maybe that is why some of them do not understand others in the same minority population; can that be a reason? Also, except language differences, Gelo are mostly assimilated and more like the Han than not, but they do have some unique customs including that men and women extract one or two canine teeth when they came of age. Also, when they first had an Anglicized name, some did spell it Gelao. However, among themselves, they do not use that name and do call themselves ‘Klau.’

The Gelo are known for their ‘suspended coffin’ burials, their ‘drinking with the nose. And their using long bamboo tubes to drink wine from a jar; so do the Yi and the Quiang.

In addition, many brides were engaged in the cradle but that rarely happens these days, and for some there is no wedding ceremony. She simply went to the groom’s house in sandals before their marriage and does bring grains, tea, and salt to place at the shrine of his ancestors. After doing this, his family did set off firecrackers to welcome her and announce that they are married; but many locations forbid this firecracker behavior.

The language of Gelo is a Chinese-Turkish language family or a Kadai language family, but few still speak this native tongue because Mandarin is the language most now and understand. Some do speak Yi, Miao, or Buyei, depending upon where they live and who lives near them.

Most Gelo are Taoists, lesser numbers Buddhists, and many of them are recognized by their long black and white scarves, or their totally white ones, some wearing them as turbans around their head. Others recognize them when a male dies as before that event, a funeral dance is performed before his burial.

The staple diet of the gelo is mostly corn which is supplemented with rice, wheat, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, and sweet potatoes. They enjoy all of them no matter how they are made with one exception; they prefer them tasting sweet and sour. One other food fact is that women in their families make lots of dumplings and glutinous rice cakes and flavor them sweet and sour, too.

They do make a condiment called ‘chili bone’ which is actually ground pork bones mixed with chicken meat, chili powder, sugar, wine and/or vinegar, Sichuan pepper, and some and salt. They seal this in jars for two weeks or more, and when opened, it does taste sweet and sour and can be used as a dipping condiment or one spread on dumplings or on their ever popular rice cakes.

Gelo worship the Ox God and celebrate his birthday on the first day of the tenth lunar month. On that day, they kill and eat a chicken, drink wine, and polish the horns of their oxen. They even decorate them with polished dried glutinous rice cakes. Then, later that day, they feed these cakes to their oxen before cooking with them and eating these cakes themselves.

This minority population does recognize that there can be ten main subgroups. As farmers, most Gelo grow lots of soybeans and other staple foods, used to live in mud huts, and now live in brick houses with indoor plumbing; they like them with spacious kitchens, if affordable.

They also used to pledge their children in marriage to cousins, other relatives, or neighbors when quite young. Rarely do they do so nowadays and more rare is to do so when their children are as young as being in the cradle.

One other unique thing the Gelo adore is to play a game called miejidan. In English we have heard it called ‘Bamboo Egg.’ Some play it in teams, others not, and all toss an oval or egg-shaped ball not much larger than one the size of a ping pong ball. Made with thin bamboo strips and stuffed with rice straw and copper coins, using it they try to hit those on the other team to gain points for their team. The team or the individual with the highest score is the winner.

These people love to sing and dance, and at burials do a caiting dance before the burial ceremony. At this event, someone will play the lusheng or reed pipe, others might beat on bamboo poles, still others play with swords, and most of them do dance. A Shaman might be chanting, many can be planting a tree to mark where the deceased is actually buried.

On the sixth day of the seventh Lunar month, they will celebrate worshiping their ancestors. Some family member has made or purchased a huge rice cake, one sometimes mixed with corn. Theri burials take place some days after the person has dies, and there are three days before they eat it with other foods including many dumplings ready to be dipped in their sweet and sour sauce. For this burial event which they deem a festival, some families slaughter an ox, sheep, or a pig and before it is eaten, they make sacrifices over it. These meats, often prepared sweet and sour, slao include their favorite flavored sauce, sweet and sour.
Glutinous Rice Cakes
½ pound glutinous rice, soaked overnight, then rinsed and drained
5 Tablespoons regular rice, also soaked overnight and drained
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons meat floss
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 deep-fried dough stick, diced
5 Tablespoons preserved vegetable, diced fine
1. Steam both rices for thirty minutes over boiling water, and do test that the glutinous rice is soft, if not steam another fifteen minutes.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, stir the vegetable oil and meat floss together and fry both rices with this meat floss, then add the salt, sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, the dough stick pieces, and the preserved vegetable. Remove any oil in the wok or fry pan and mix this rice mixture with it and divide it in two parts.
3. Using half the rice, make a four-inch pancake, pat the preserved vegetable mixture on it, then add the rest of the rice mixture and pat together tightly making a stuffed rice cake. Next, fry it on each side for two minutes each and serve it hot or cold.
Corn and Shrimp Congee
½ pound fresh shrimp, veins and shells removed and discarded
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons black rice vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 ear fresh corn, kernels cut away from the cob
½ cup rice, soaked for half an hour
½ teaspoon coarse salt
5 slices fresh ginger, peeled and slivered
1. Cut each shrimp into four pieces and mix with the sugar, rice vinegar, and cornstarch.
2. Put the corn kernels and the rice into four cups of boiling water, reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour, then add the salt and the ginger, and simmer another fifteen minutes. Next, add the shrimp and their marinade.
3. Stir well, add another three cups of boiling water, cook for half an hour longer, then serve.
Pressed Tofu and Rice Cakes
2 cups hot glutinous rice
1 pound firm tofu
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon finely minced chili pepper pieces
2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons black Chinese vinegar
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1. Slice tofu in three layers, and cut each piece into two pieces, then brush them with soy sauce.
2. Mix the hot rice with the cornstarch, chili pepper pieces, and the fresh ginger and press this mixture into each side of each piece of tofu.
3. Mix vinegar and sugar, and sprinkle this on every side of the rice-coated tofu cakes, and set them aside on a wire rack for about half an hour.
4. Heat a wok or fry pan, then add the oil, and when very hot, fry each side of the rice-coated tofu pieces for one minute; then put them back on the wire rack for half a hour and the serve them.

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