Ceremonial Summer Dining
In ancient China, according to the traditional calendar, the first day of summer was marked by a day called Lixia , which would soon be followed by the annual wave of unbearable heat.
Heat can lead to loss of appetite, and in olden times if someone were to become thin it was a serious matter, so at the beginning of every summer people would measure their weight. During those times summer was something to be dreaded, and Chinese medicine practitioners would examine people for a summer illness which they called zhuxia , zhu in classical Chinese being similar in meaning to “bitter”, and xia meaning summer. Not being able to cope with summer is a bitter experience indeed, so the common name for this illness was simply kuxia , or “bitter sum- mer”.
The foods that could be consumed to avoid the onset of zhuxia not only varied widely, they also had a very ceremonial feel to them. The people of Shanghai and the surrounding region would pick the ears of wheat that have yet to fill and grind them into powder, then mix this with sugar and make the powder into strips, which they called “wheat silkworms”, so as to express their wishes for growth.
The people of Changsha, Hunan formed balls out of glutinous rice and cudweed, which they served in a soup, and these balls was said to grant one with great strength and agility, so that they could deftly escape the hot summer wind. People further south would often eat a kind of “seven-family congee” that had to be made of rice from all of one’s neighbors, which was then cooked into a congee, representing the strength