Steamed buns enrich life for villagers in Shandong

By ZHAO RUIXUE in Jinan| (China Daily)| Updated : 2022-02-09

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Shandong province farmer Hou Nianying has had a busy winter, with orders for special steamed buns known as bobo increasing as the Lunar New Year approached.

"This year is the Year of the Tiger, so bobo made in the shape of a tiger are very popular," she said.

The 59-year-old, who lives in Weihai's Wendeng district, said many people bought tiger-shaped bobo for their children in the hope they would be as vigorous as tigers this year.

Bobo are wheat buns that are larger than regular steamed buns. Skilled housewives can make them in the shape of different animals and figures, and decorate them with red jujubes and colorful flowers.

Wendeng's bobo-making craftsmanship was included in Shandong's provincial-level intangible cultural heritage list in 2019.

"We make bobo by hand, and all the raw materials used are natural ingredients," Hou said.

Bobo get their colors from different vegetables and grains. Pumpkin is used to make yellow ones, spinach for green and sweet potato for purple. Black bean and red bean are used to decorate bobo.


Women make bobo steamed buns decorated with jujubes at an agricultural product cooperative in Cuijia village in Wendeng district, Weihai, Shandong province, in January last year. CHINA DAILY

Hou remembers making bobo with her mother and aunts each Spring Festival when she was a little girl, something she still does to this day.

"Every household in our village makes bobo when there is a happy thing to celebrate," she said.

To turn the intangible cultural heritage into a sector that could enrich local farmers, an agricultural product cooperative was founded in the district's Cuijia village in 2020 with local government support.

One hundred families in the village, including Hou's, joined the cooperative by investing some money. They share part of its net income according to their investment.

"In addition to the dividends I receive from the cooperative, I can earn over 100 yuan ($15.76) a day by working for the cooperative," Hou said.

Before making bobo at the cooperative, workers are trained to make a standardized product, down to details such as how many jujubes to use when decorating them.

"We are required to put on outfits including masks and caps to ensure good food hygiene," Hou said.

Cui Xiliang, the village's Party secretary, said bobo production is now incessant, with people buying them for weddings and birthdays as well as Spring Festival.

Wendeng's district government released supportive measures to develop the bobo sector in November, and bobo producers can now apply for subsidies to develop products and upgrade production facilities.

To ensure the quality of bobo, the district's quality supervision agency conducts regular tests.