What is one thing, besides Islam, that Hui people are passionate about?
They love it. They make a big deal about it. Their holidays, celebrations, and even weddings revolve around it. My good friend spent three days cooking lamb for the wedding guests of her friend’s brother. Three days! And this was only one portion of the feast that was served at the celebration.
Food is an absent minded conversation starter. Their equivalent to the English greeting, “How are you?” is “Have you eaten?”
The Hui people have several food items that are unique to them. You Bing (or Oil Bread) is a thick piece of round bread that is deep fried and Sanzi is a thin, crispy bread that looks like a big pile of noodles. Hui Cai is a broth soup that is full of noodles and vegetables that is traditionally served at weddings or other special events. These are just a few of the specialties that the Hui people take pride in.
Recently I read a book by Tim Chester called, A Meal with Jesus. The book discusses the important role that eating had in Jesus’s ministry. A meal shared with others invariably meant a platform to point people to the Father. One of my favorite things that the author pointed out is that Jesus was often the guest, partaking of a meal in another person’s home. He used his invitation to eat as an invitation to share truth with his host and other guests.
When I think about what day-to-day ministry looks like among the Hui people, eating is one of the first things that comes to mind. Their curiosity and friendliness often leads to an invitation to join them in their home, at their table, or at a family celebration.
Deeply rooted in the Hui culture is the idea of hospitality. Hosting a guest is an important task and the way in which they host is passed down from generation to generation. When they invite guests into their home, there is bound to be an abundance of food and the goal in hospitality is to ensure that guests are fed to the fullest!
When a guest arrives in the home of a Hui person, they are quickly served a hot cup of tea. Eight treasures tea or three pour tea, which is green tea that has “treasures” such as dried fruit and big blocks of rock sugar added in with it, is one of their specialties. Hot water is continuously added to the cup, so that it remains full and the tea gets sweeter and sweeter as the rock sugar melts with each pour.
With the tea, the guest is given a seat in front of a table full of snack foods such as their traditional breads, nuts, seeds, and fruit, and is told (not asked) to eat while the host makes their way to the kitchen to prepare the meal. The meal usually consists of a variety of stir-fry vegetables and meats or hand-made dumplings. The dishes are placed in the middle of a table and the meal is shared “family-style” with everyone using their chopsticks to take a bite or two at a time out of the main serving dishes and having their own individual bowls of rice. If for a moment the guest is caught without food in their mouth, it is likely that an older Hui lady will pipe up and exclaim, “Eat, eat!” while waving her finger at them or piling food onto their rice. Once the meal is over and it is affirmed that everyone is full, by being asked multiple times, the guest is returned to snack foods from before. Even if attempts are made to help with the clean-up, usually the response is, “Eat seeds,” “Drink tea!”
Enjoying meals in our Hui friends’ homes has given us opportunities to learn much about their culture, build their trust, connect with other members of their family and friends, and have truth centered conversations. In their homes, on their territory, they are able to be relaxed and the barriers come down, opening up opportunities to talk about Jesus. We’ve learned that sometimes what it takes to get deeper in relationships is to eat a chicken foot, toenails and all, and let everyone get a good laugh out of it. We’ve learned that when our Hui friends share their specially made bread with us, it is the perfect time for us to share the Bread of Life with them.
Being invited into a Hui person’s home is an honor and a treat. It’s an ideal opportunity to love, to learn, and to enjoy the rich culture and amazing cooking skills of the Hui. Partaking of a meal in our Hui friends’ home allows relationships to go deeper and Truth to be shared. A shared meal is truly a catalyst for the Good News to go forward, here in Asia, and around the world. This is something that you too can be a part of, no matter where you are at.
Pray. At a meal time, pray that workers would have favor among their Hui neighbors and that they would have opportunities to enter into their homes. Pray that the Good News would be proclaimed over shared meals and that hearts would be changed.
Give. Give an invitation to your neighbor to come over and partake in your hospitality. Use your home and your cooking skills (or those imparted to you by Youtube) to serve the lost around you. Look for an opportunity to break bread and share the Bread with someone in your life.
Go. When you receive an invitation to partake in a meal with someone, go! Go with intentionality and accept their invitation to eat as an invitation to love them by sharing Truth.