Cheung Chau, Hong Kong
By Bobby Yip
Cheung Chau, or “Long Island”, with a population of around 30,000, is famous not only for its seafood and snacks, and as a small resort for local tourists, but most of all for its buns.
The Bun Festival is the annual highlight of this former fishing village. Tens of thousands of visitors flock to attend the ritual, jamming the narrow streets of this quiet island.
What makes Cheung Chau’s bun special? The two Chinese characters stamped on it says it all: “Ping An”, meaning “peaceful” and “safe”. The $1 USD bun is in great demand not just during the festival but throughout the year. Initially, villagers made them to pray for safety from plague and pirates, who were active in the 18th century.
“Put them in a cool and dry place or store them in the refrigerator, and they can be kept for a year. Steam the buns again and they will still taste good,” a baker said. Like other market driven businesses, the original pure flour buns are now available with different paste fillings. About 7,000 buns each day are made by one of the two main bakeries, a couple of weeks ahead of the festival, for the festival and for retail.
Even the organizers have no exact figure on the number of buns used during the four-day festival. There are three 50-foot-tall “bun mountains”, with buns to be distributed among residents at the end of the festival. There are several more mid-sized ones, and there are dozens of smaller ones made by local communities, with their names marked on the buns. I have counted the smaller ones, which have more than 200 buns each. On the cone-shaped bun mountains, the base is surrounded by more than 100 buns, and it goes up to nearly 100 rows of buns!