Dishes of Death: Cultural food for funerals

crispy floss sandwich

My late mom is Foochow while my dad is Henghua and they both have different cultural traditions for food after a death in the family. We’ve just done the 3rd day ceremony where we sweep the cemetery grounds and bring her photo back. It’s customary to eat together after this and the two different cultures have different dishes that you’re supposed to eat.

1. Chicken mee sua with red wine and boiled-fried egg

henghua noodles

This is a Henghua tradition. You’re supposed to eat longevity noodles cooked with chicken stock (real, not from a cube or bottle) and served with pieces of chicken and an egg that’s been boiled before battered and then deep fried.

There’s also locally fermented red rice wine used for cooking in this dish. The dish above replaces the mee sua with hung ang noodles (see below).

2. Fried thick beehoon with boiled-fried egg

foochow noodles

This is a Foochow tradition and we originally wanted to follow this custom since my mom is Foochow. The fried thick beehoon is known as “hung ang” over here – it’s best described as a cross between mee hoon and lou shi fan.

Unfortunately, we drove to three (3) different places and all of them were *closed* so we settled on eating just whatever we wanted, since my dad is Christian and doesn’t follow all these pantang (superstitious beliefs) anyway.

The picture above is a type of Foochow style fried noodles – the next best thing, which most people had.

3. Pork leg longevity noodles

pork leg noodles

I had this with one of my uncles. It’s stewed pork leg cooked with a specific combination of herbs and spices called pek ting yok (usually translated as 8 treasures herb). It’s RM 7 and I found it to be quite good and it fulfils the Henghua tradition of eating longevity noodles after a death and the subsequent visit to the family.

pork mee sua

My grandma was so worried that we didn’t eat this (she’s of the older generation) and cooked dry longevity noodles tossed in lard for us at night!

rojak tambi

As for us, since we don’t really follow tradition, you can even eat rojak tambi if you want. I just thought it was interesting, all the cultural believes surrounding death and I never got a proper explanation on why we eat a certain dish and not another. However, as in all cultures, the consumption of food after a funeral is the norm.

tambi rojak

I did a quick search and found out that the reason we eat after a funeral is to celebrate the life of the deceased…

death dishes

…and we’ve been doing it as far back as 12,000 years (!!!) since the Natufian people in the Stone Age!

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17 thoughts on “Dishes of Death: Cultural food for funerals”

  1. what a super interesting post!! thanks for writing this. i never would’ve known there was such a thing as “funeral food” …and i’m chinese. lol. disgraceful S:

    • Thanks!

      I guess it all differs according to custom, but all cultures involve food after funeral, there is a reason for it, apparently!

  2. Dude, we did not have any patang as well, buried dad in the afternoon and went partying at night, if I recall “Earth Quake” Kuching.

    • Yeah, that’s the best, we don’t need superstitions in this day and age, we’re Christians and my mom wouldn’t want us to either.

  3. I don’t know anything about things that must be eaten post-funeral but when I was young, I did hear that the special luncheon at a restaurant for relatives and friends who attended must not have any red colour – hence, in the old days, dishes like sweet and sour meat or fish were taboo!

    • Interesting!

      Yeah, we Chinese usually wear white, the only time I’ve worn red was when my great-grandmother died (she fulfilled the two criteria of having 4 generations of offspring and being over 90/100 years of age and thus it’s considered a great and fulfilling life, ergo the red).

  4. I don’t remember anything special about the funeral meals I’ve had. I do remember that on the final day of the funeral (after the deceased has been buried or sent to a crematorium), there was a vegetarian luncheon held in a restaurant for all who attended the funeral. Sort of like a thank you and chase-away-your-bad-luck kinda thing.

    • Yeah, that’s what we did too!

      It’s more of a thank-you to all those people who attended, the table count is kept open so that people who arrived late can still eat. The restaurants now chase the obits, we got one that came in a van to provide meals (during the days of the wake) and they set up tables and everything at the car porch.

  5. For our family, we’d usually catch something light after the funeral because it is believed that we shouldn’t sink our faces into food immediately. We don’t really pantang in the choice of foods even though my Mom’s from a rather traditional Teochew family and my Dad’s a Hakka.

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss, HB. Do know that even though your Mom is no longer around physically, she will still be spiritually and watching out for you and your family.

    • We had a banquet after the funeral and my uncle said something apt when he noticed the other family beside us (who also had a death in the family).

      He said nowadays it’s expected of the bereaved family to set up big banquets (minimum price is RM 300 / table) irrespective of whether they can afford it or not since it’s expected of them.

      Someone arrived before us and ate all the peanuts on the table and said “he was very hungry” (pu lo jin kung in Foochow). I was quite surprised at his behavior.

      We don’t mind doing the buffet spread but it’s sad to see some people who can’t afford it having to keep “open tables” (unlimited tables for people who arrive late) coz I heard the other family stating concerns about the financial aspects, which prompted my uncle to say that.

    • Thanks Rose!

      Yeah, it’s unfortunate, but it’s sad to see how my mom went from wheelchair bound to bedridden to oxygen dependent in just a few weeks coz she’s too weak for radiotherapy anymore (her immune system is failing).

      Cancer is such a sad thing to happen, especially to someone who doesn’t smoke, drink or have any vices.

    • Thanks buddy…

      She’s been fighting with cancer since 2010 and when she was too weak to go for radiotherapy, the cancer just went totally aggressive and she was in a matter of weeks, bedridden and oxygen-dependent from just wheelchair bound.

      It was sad to see her suffer.

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