A Penang Wedding Tea Ceremony

For the second time this year, we find ourselves in fantastically delicious Penang. The first time, we came for a short trip to eat, visit family, and eat some more before the Chinese New Year holidays. This time, we’re here to celebrate the wedding of one of Annie’s cousins.

dragon teapot

Let the Eating Begin

As soon as the kids got out of school here in Kuching, we hopped on a plane to KL, then drove with Mum and Dad up to Penang. What was the first thing we did when we arrived at Annie’s uncle’s place? Go out to eat, of course! Assam Laksa and Char Kway Teow, right off the bat!

After a brief rest, we all bundled off to another relative’s house for the evening’s festivities. They had set up a big tent, tables and chairs in the front yard – all colored in festive red. As guests arrived, they pulled up a chair and sat down to a meal of traditional Penang Chinese wedding dishes.

Penang Wedding Tea Ceremony - dinner

From back to front: Steamed veggies, loh bak – minced pork wrapped in tofu skin and deep fried, curry chicken, egg fu yong, and acar – pickled veggies with crushed peanuts. (Not seen: a restorative bowl of pig stomach soup with white pepper – yum!) As the serving plates were emptied, they would be refilled with more food. The homemade acar was delicious – sweet and crunchy and full of Nyonya flavors. It was the first dish to run out!

Penang Wedding Tea Ceremony - food

Tea Time

The bride and groom arrived and they made way around the tables, greeting family and friends. They didn’t have too much time to eat, though, as the tea ceremony would soon begin. As the implements were set up, everyone began to migrate inside the house.

Penang Wedding Tea Cermony - Bride

The Chinese wedding tea ceremony serves as the “formal” introduction of the groom to the bride’s family and vice versa. The couple serves a small cup of sweet longan and red date tea to their parents, grandparents, and family elders in turns, while addressing them with the proper honorific title. After the tea is served, the couple receives a gift of money enclosed in an ang pow (red packet) or jewelry, often with a word of blessing or advice.

(More information on the Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony here.)

It’s a fun exercise, especially when the groom (like me) comes from another culture and is just learning how to call all the uncles and aunties for the first time. There is much laughter involved, as the groom is gently teased for stumbling or mis-pronouncing a name. Sometimes, the elders will just dispose of tradition and hand over the red packet without sitting for the tea. The tea ceremony can be quite lucrative for the couple, especially if they have a very large extended family!

Penang Wedding Tea Ceremony - Uncles and Aunties

After the uncles and aunts are served, next come the elder married siblings and cousins. Annie and I had the most fun here, because we not only represented ourselves but her two brothers as well who couldn’t make the trip to Penang.

Here’s the blogger’s eye view of things:

Finally, the younger and unmarried cousins get to participate when they receive a red packet gift from the wedding couple. In such way, the tradition is passed down from generation to generation.

Penang Wedding Tea Ceremony - Cousins and Kids

Large extended families are becoming rarer these days, as the younger generations choose not to have as many children as their parents did. Chinese tea ceremonies may not be such big affairs in the future. So I am grateful that I got to participate in them, both with our own wedding as well as this cousin’s wedding.

Family Portrait

Penang Wedding Tea Ceremony - Family Portrait

The After-Party

After most of the guests had gone, the aunties and uncles gathered around the table to drink, chit-chat, and eat some more. Even we cousins also took the opportunity to head out for some supper and drinks outside. It was 1 am before we all crawled into bed. Hey, when in Penang, do as the Penang-ites do!

The bride and groom went back to their hotel to get some rest. The next morning, the groom and his party would play “fetch the bride”. More fun, which we will cover in our next post…

Aloha, Nate

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6 Comments Post a Comment
  1. kat says:

    thanks for sharing this custom!

  2. Song says:

    Love the website! My husband loves hurricane popcorn and I never have had it – so now I gotta make it so I can try it. I lived in Hawaii for 2 summers, and love the other Hawaiian dishes and love the fact that I can do it from your recipes!

  3. terri says:

    love love love the food in penang! do you love durians? if you do, you must go to penang in july/august bc they have the best durians in malaysia!

    have fun! love weddings too:)

  4. Becky says:

    Nice tea ceremony. I love this wedding tradition.
    The achar pickles brought back vivid memories of my late mom’s Penang-style achar, which she used to make for Chinese New Year in Singapore. My sisters and I were the kitchen help, cutting and slicing vast amounts of cucumbers and carrots!!

  5. Miss all the Penang food. Three cups of tea at one go is a lot of tea! Both you and Annie must have kept the seats warm for the next couple :D

  6. Carolyn Jung says:

    What a festive gathering with the bride- and groom-to-be in their finest silk, too. Glad you guys could spend such a delicious time with family.

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My Photo Annie is mistress of the kitchen while Nate is the master of the grill and smoker. We cook the homestyle Asian and Hawaiian foods of our younger days while also exploring the wider worlds of Western foods.

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