Flowery flour buns (Huamo)

Flowery flour buns, also called “huamo” or “mianhua” is a kind of flower-shaped steamed bun that is very common in North China. As the name implies, huamo is made with flour. Fermented flour is kneaded into various shapes such as animals, gourds, fruits and flowers, and then steamed and finally colored, and the beautiful colors make them look particularly delightful and appetizing. 

Huamo making

Making flowery flour buns (huamo) is a festival tradition in North China. Every festival, holiday, birthday party, or weddings, women use knives, scissors, nippers, and combs to make animals, such as tigers, mice, fish, and birds, and apparatus, such as eyes, noses, and hands, meaning lucky, prosperous, and harvest. Flowery flour buns are normally sweet in taste and served at dinners between the dishes. 

Huamo is not only a food, but also an art. The buns are vivid and magnified in shape, thunder-and-lightening in color, rich in local flavor, and delicate and exquisite in taste. The way to make huamo was handed down from generation to generation in Shanxi, Shandong and Shaanxi provinces, and it is a basic skill for women to have. When making a huamo, women concentrate on their artistic creation as they like, letting their abundant imagination gallop freely in the vast artistic world like a young gazelle, and, also like a gazelle, leave behind various works of huamo as they go, each with its own special characteristics. 

Skylark huamo

Cut out a small piece of dough and rub it several times. First, make the body of a bird. Then rub a small piece of dough into short noodles, press them flat, paste them on the back of the bird and make the wing of the bird with a comb. The last step is making the beak. Then a singing skylark is done. The average time a woman takes to make the dough sculptures is four minutes for the skylark. 

Custom

In China, huamo was related to the customs of funeral and sacrificial rites. Nowadays, when paying respects for the dead on Tomb-Sweeping Day (the Qingming Festival), people still keep the ancient customs of watering the graveyard and offering huamo as sacrifices to ancestors. Also, people use huamo to pray for safety and luck in the next year and express their wish of happy life.

In addition, huamo is used as a gift. In the home of a person who just got married, huamo are sent by his relatives as a congratulatory gift. The huamo with a picture of dragons and phoenixes was called long feng cheng xiang (dragons and phoenixes show prosperity). The huamo in the shape of a chain of locks expresses the hope that the newly married couple will live to an old age happily. 

According to folk custom, when returning to her parents’ home, a married woman must bring half a basket of huamo with her. The ring-shaped huamo presented to her parents and other elders expresses the wish that the elders should have a long life as the ring goes round without the end. The huamo are decorated with a bat and a deer as a symbol for the hope that the couple can spend their remaining years in happiness.

Huamo shaped like a rabbit and tiger are given to children to show the wish that a boy should be as strong as tiger and a girl as lovely and clever as a white rabbit. Huamo in the shape of birds is used to show that children will be good at singing and dancing like birds.