We are currently in the period of 處暑 (Cyu Syu) End of Heat, of the solar terms, and today also ends the Ghost month. Soon we enter what has been considered in ancient Chinese times as the most beautiful period of a year according to the Twenty-Four Solar Terms: 白露 (Baak Lou) – White Dew, which begins on September 8 this year.
While the End of Heat signifies summer coming to an end, White Dew is the period of time when the cool wind approaches, evenings get cooler and the temperature differences between day and night used to create droplets of dew on leaves and flower petals, which looked white when the sun shone on them in the morning, hence why this Solar Term is given the beautiful name Baak Lou. Moreover, White Dew is towards the middle of Autumn, so the temperature is nice and cool, but flowers are still blossoming and leaves on the trees have not yet turned yellow and fallen down. Nature is still in full bloom, but the temperature is not hot like summer which makes it difficult to appreciate this beauty. Therefore, poems were written in ancient China about the beautiful scenes of Baak Lou, considering it the most beautiful period of a year.
Although we may not be able to enjoy beautiful natural scenes in Macao, probably not even cool temperature yet this September, it may still be interesting to follow some of the ancient customs. Baak Lou is not a big festival, but there are some places in China that still follow certain traditions of celebrating White Dew. One such custom is to drink Baak Lou tea on the day. This is a special kind of tea only produced during the period of White Dew. Different from tea grown in other seasons, Baak Lou tea is said to have fresh flowery taste especially liked by older people. Another practice is to start brewing Baak Lou rice wine, which may take a few years to be ready for consumption. Due to the temperature and water quality, it is believed that the day of Baak Lou is the best time to start brewing rice wine, and to differentiate this batch of rice wine, they are named Baak Lou rice wine.
In some places, even this largely unknown solar term is considered a festival, and I read that they celebrate the day by preparing a large meal consisting of 10 kinds of white colored food to fit the name of the term. I have tried to find out what the 10 “whites” are but there is no record yet that has the whole menu. The ones I have found referred to are simmered chicken, a couple of Chinese medicines that can be used in cooking which are white in color and have the word “white” in their names, such as Chinese white wine and steamed white fish. When mentioning this custom, many considered it difficult to create a meal with 10 dishes of white color only. So it may be an interesting challenge for a special Baak Lou meal this year. I do have some suggestions.
One idea is to start with egg white and white beans, then chicken and fish served with vermicelli and white rice, followed by white marshmallows and vanilla ice-cream for dessert. Additionally, sweet glutinous rice with banana (instead of the usual mango) can be added to make up the 10 kinds of white food. Then, there is always the possibility of having white wine during meal, and white port wine after, or even a gin tonic before. So, cheers to the White Dew!