Laba Porridge


Waitresses prepare bowls of hot porridge for local residents at Gongdelin Vegetarian Restaurant in Beijing, capital of China, on Jan. 3, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

The Laba Festival is celebrated on the eighth day of the last lunar month (accurately January 3 of the Gregorian calendar 2008), referring to the traditional start of preparation for the Spring Festival. It is also a Buddhist festival on which date Sakyamuni, the first Buddha and founder of the religion, was believed to have attained enlightenment and became Buddha.

"La" in Chinese means the 12th lunar month and "ba" means eight. Legends about the origin of this festivity abound. One holds that over 3,000 years ago sacrificial rites called la were held in the twelfth lunar month when people offered up their preys to the gods of heaven and earth. Since the festival was held on the eighth day of the month, people later appended the number eight (ba in Chinese), giving us the current laba.

The most important activity on this day is eating Laba porridge. The story goes back to about 900 years ago. According to legend, when Sakyamuni was on his quest for understanding and enlightenment, he grew exhausted and hungry, and passed into unconsciousness near a river in India. A shepherdess found him there and gave him her lunch -- porridge made of beans and rice. Sakyamuni was thus able to continue his journey and finally realized full enlightenment on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month.

Since then on this day sutras were chanted in the temples and rice porridge with beans, nuts and dried fruit was prepared for the Buddha. The tradition of eating Laba porridge, though based on religion, became a popular winter dish with the passing of time.

Laba porridge contains glutinous rice, red beans, millet, Chinese sorghum, peas, dried lotus seeds, and other ingredients, such as dried dates, chestnut meat, walnut meat, almonds, peanuts, etc. Eight main ingredients are cooked with sugar to make the porridge tasty. Laba porridge is also called babao (Eight Treasures) porridge for its high nutritional value.

The porridge is not only beneficial to health but is a rite of blessing that signals the prolusion of the Spring Festival.