Learning the art of making bobo

Making bobo
PHOTO: Making bobo

I was still a little boy when I left my hometown in Wendeng, a city on the Jiaodong peninsula in Shandong province.

Although I have eaten many steamed buns and breads during the past few decades, I can't forget my memories of eating bobo, a traditional food for festivals in Wendeng.

Bobo are wheat buns that are about four times or even six times larger than usual steamed buns. Skilled housewives can make bobo in shape of different animals and figures, and ornament them with red jujubes and colorful flowers, which look like pieces of exquisite handicrafts.

In Wendeng, people like to steam bobo for Spring Festival and other celebrations like weddings and birthdays.

With the pace of urbanization in China continuing to accelerate, the number of people who can make the bobo gradually reduced. Now, it has become a rare food for city people.

During this year's Tomb-Sweeping Day holiday, I went to my hometown to interview several inheritors of the technique of making bobo in my hometown, bring back memories of my childhood.

I went to the bobo shop of Lin Rongtao. He and his mother, Liu Fanrong, were busy with making a bobo for customers to celebrate an older member's birthday in the family.

The peach-shaped bobo, on the top of which the Chinese characters "fu" (happiness) and "shou" (longevity), were inscribed was surrounded by a dozen small other bobo.

"This craft has been handed down from generation to generation," the 68-year-old Liu Fanrong told me.

Liu used scissors to make the dough into an animal. Shortly, a bobo looked like a hedgehog, with two small black beans become its eyes. Then Liu made other shapes -- rabbits and birds.

In ancient times, bobo was used in religious worship. It is still popular in the rural areas of Weihai, Qingdao. It is full of distinctive local characteristics.

In 2009, the craftsmanship of flower bobo in Wendeng, were included in the Shandong provincial government's intangible cultural heritage list.

Every year, Wendeng holds a competition to provide a chance for bobo makers to display their unique skills.

Liu Fanrong says: "Every household here will steam bobo during the Spring Festival to usher in good luck for the next year."

"Mothers will steam bobo in shape of children's zodiac signs to celebrate kids' birthdays. In this way, she hopes the children will be healthy and clever."

Lin Rongtao, 46,started to study the craft from his mother when he was 10 year old. In 2010, Lin was awarded "inheritor of Jiaodong flower dough modeling craft" by the Shandong culture department.

Sun Yishu, 40, opened a flower bobo shop in Wendeng in 2000. The shop is not very big, but it has a good reputation. Now, she has opened two such shops and sells more than 1,000 boxes of bobo during Spring Festival.

"My bobo is good-looking and delicious. Lots of South Korean people like it," Sun says excitedly. Many South Korean bosses who open factories here buy my flower bobo to take home."