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Feature: The evolution of Laba congee
Last Updated: 2018-01-25 07:30 | Xinhua
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"Back in the old days, my mother would get up early to cook Laba congee before dawn, with a huge iron wok over a wood-burning stove that young people have never seen," said Liu Shufang, a Beijing resident.

"Laba congee was a reminder of the Chinese Lunar New Year," the 83-year-old woman added.

Laba, the eighth day of the 12th lunar month, is generally celebrated by the Chinese people with a special meal: Laba congee. It comes from a shared wish for harvest, abundance, health, family gatherings and the sweetness of a good life.

"It was not easy to collect different ingredients to cook the congee in the past," she said.

Decades ago, Liu lived in a small village, now the prosperous business district of Wangjing, Beijing.

Liu has moved into a modern apartment in central Xicheng District. Life has gotten better and better since opening-up and reform began, she said.

"Laba congee was cooked only once a year. It contained at least eight ingredients, among which sugar was very important. We hardly ever saw sugar back then," said Bu Juan, Liu's daughter, who was born and grew up in the capital, but remembers how hard life was four decades ago.

"Forty years ago, a few dried dates in the congee could cause a scramble among our siblings. Today, I easily have more than eight kinds of ingredients to cook the congee," Bu said. "I could cook Laba congee everyday if I wish, but I cook it only on the eve of Laba Festival just for the sake of tradition and sentimentality."

On the other side of the city, Bu's son Ma Yongjian, a young financial consultant, bought Laba congee ingredients online earlier this week.

"The only problem is there are too many online shops offering the ingredients. It is hard to choose," he said.

Ma eventually purchased a package of assorted grain at the Wufangzhai online store, a "time-honored brand" based in Jiaxing, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, The store has sold more than 41,000 packages of prepacked Laba congee ingredients in the last month.

"The service industry in China has seen great improvement in recent years. We all benefit," he said. "I received the package in a couple of days."

He was told by the salesperson to soak the beans and cereals for 15 minutes before pouring them into a smart electric cooker which cooks the congee automatically after a click on his phone to begin the process, no matter where he is. The congee will be ready when he comes home.

"My grandma (Liu Shufang) always told me to be grateful for what we have and to thank the Communist Party of China and the government who have led us to the comfortable life we have today," said Ma. "And I agree."

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