Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hungry Ghost Festival Longevity Peach Pau = shou tao

Two weeks ago, I was in the market deciding which exotic fruit I would eat next. So far I have had rambutan and durian (Well known for being either absolutely delicious or pungent and horrible-when I ate it I could not taste or smell anything -no I wasn't sick- so I guess that means I like durian). I was going to pick mangosteen this week when I saw the most delicious, vibrant looking peach of my life. It was hot pink and then faded into white. There were a bunch of them at every fruit stand, I figured they just became ripe and by the way they were wrapped it seemed as so they were for some type of celebration. I thought to ask the vendor what they were, but then reconsidered because the last time I asked a vendor how you eat a rambutan I was awkwardly stared at for a few seconds and then ignored.

I splurged a bit to buy my peaches, but my excitement overcame these concerns and so I gladly shared the fruits of my labor with my apartment mates (pun anyone?). This is when Jackie pointed out that my fruit had an ingredients label, which included wheat and lotus! What a disappointment!! It turns out they were not very appetizing as well; the best way I could describe it is a roll with the thickness and sponginess of pretzel dough filled with thick fragrant, slightly sweet goop.
Since no one in my apartment was going to eat my peach rolls, I decided to bring them to work hoping that someone would recognize what they were and enjoy them.

For the large part of the lunch, my co workers laughed at my misinterpretation of the food. At the end though, one person declared that they were probably pau (a roll with filling in the center, a cousin of the Boston Crème) meant for the Hungry Ghost Festival.

The Hungry Ghost Festival, celebrated throughout South East Asia, is when the “gates of Hell” are open and ghosts are able to wonder the earth. The Chinese in Singapore, uphold this tradition by burning incense and providing offerings for the ghosts (like my peach). The basis of the tradition reminds me of Día de los muertos, from Mexican culture. Among the revelries of the festival are various theatrical performances which range from religious to comical in nature. The living are welcome to attend these performances, but the ghosts have reserved seats in the front rows.

With this knowledge, I thought it was not in my best interest to finish my Hungry Ghost Festival Peach Roll and left the remaining rolls at the table either for a passerby or a hungry ghost. The next day, when we returned to the pantry (which is what they call the room with sofas, a fridge, and a table tennis table, in my opinion pantry doesn’t do the room justice) to find that hungry ghost had not eaten all of the Ghost Festival Peach Rolls. We then debated whether they would ever actually go because they are intended for ghosts. Fortunately, someone from Chinese descent was also eating lunch with us that day and to everyone’s’ surprise and my pleasure she said that the roll was not meant for the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Instead, it was a longevity peach, called shou tao in Singapore (I knew it looked like a peach!!). In Singapore, the longevity peach is eaten on an elderly person’s birthday. The tradition comes from a Taoist story which said that there was once a peach tree which every three thousand years would grow peaches that would grant the eater immortality. These baked buns represent those peaches.

If I knew it was going to grant me eternal life, maybe I would have finished the shou tao I bought…


P.S. I finally bought a passion fruit. They are one of my favorite fruits, but I have only had them as a drink, never the actual fruit. I was very surprised by what they look like.

Really the fruit is like a soup, or maybe a stew. You need to cut through the hard shell with a knife. The fruit of the passion is the sweet (sometimes bitter) juice and the many seeds with a bubbly outer covering like that of a pomegranate. It is very appetizing, but you get so little fruit for what you spend on them!!


  1. Devinn, these are some of my favorite tropical fruits, mangosteen, rambutan, but not durian!

  2. Thank goodness you solved the mystery of the longevity peach! Such an interesting dilemma.

  3. Helo Devinn!
    I'm interested with your post about longevity peach. I seen it once @ twice in the internet but never wonder what is it about. And I'm so glad that you are one of the foreigners who didn't despise Durian completely or saying that it taste like feet (some do!). Back in my country (Malaysia), Durian is one of the local fruits that we truly enjoy and waited for it's seasons to come. I hope you will posted more of the stuff that you discovered in Malaysia cause I would love to hear it from your point of view.Regards from Malaysia.