Aiwowo is a traditional snack in Beijing. Every year, before or after the Spring Festival, the snack bars in Beijing would offer it until the end of summer or beginning of fall. Therefore, Aiwowo is also a popular food for spring and autumn, and now it is supplied all the year round. Aiwowo has a long history. Liu Ruoyu, an inner court eunuch during Wanli Reign in Ming dynasty, says in his book Records of Proper Treatment, “Use glutinous rice and sesame to make preparatory stuff like cold pastry, rub it into a ball and put fillings inside, this is the making of Wowo, which is also called “Buluojia” in the ancient times.”
From the above records we can know that the making of Aiwowo is: Take some glutinous rice, wash and soak up in water, then put inside a food steamer to cook it well. After cooking, take the rice out and cool it down. Rub the rice up and make it into small balls, then press them into round thin wrapper, and put inside mixed fillings made of peach kernel, sesame, shelled water melon seeds, green plum, haw jelly, white sugar, etc., then wrap it up to finish what was called wowo in Wanli reign of Ming dynasty. But how come it became Aiwowo later? We found some explanation in a book compiled by Li Guangting in Qing dynasty – Interesting Folk Stories. Once there was an emperor who liked this Wowo very much, when he wanted to eat it, he would instructed, “Yu ai wo wo”, which means I’d like to have wowo. Later, the making method of this food was passed out from the imperial kitchen to the civil community, but common people could not say “Yu” as it was the exclusive term used by emperors, so they just omit this word and simply referred to it by saying “ai wo wo”. This snack was popular among the population, and in the Golden Lotus there are some records for popular food at that time, among which Aiwowo is one item.
The outside wrapper of Aiwowo is made of steamed glutinous rice, and the fillings made of peach kernel, shelled water melon seeds, sesame, and white sugar are also fried beforehand, so when Aiwowo is shaped, it is already edible. One poem in Assorted Poems for Snacks in Yan Capital reads, “White glutinous rice is steamed in cooking pot, and assorted fillings are rubbed inside. Looks like sweet dumplings but no need to boil, this is what the Muslim’s aiwowo”. There is also a note for this poem, “Aiwowo is one of the foods sold by Hui people, made of well steamed sticky rice, which after being cool will wrap up assorted fillings. Then, it will be rubbed with flour into balls of different sizes with different prices. It can be eaten old. ”
The folklore goes that after conquering the rebellions launched by the Islamic Aktaglik Sect leaders Burhanidin and Hojajahan, emperor Qianlong took a Xinjiang woman who was the wife of a Uighur leader back to Beijing to be his concubine, who was later well known as the “fragrant concubine”.
After being taken to Beijing by force, the fragrant concubine was so melancholic that she didn’t want to eat or drink. The anxious emperor Qianlong instructed the imperial kitchen chefs, “Whoever can cook something the concubine prefers, he will be promoted and awarded with a thousand ounces of silver. So all of the chefs tried their best to offer thousands of delicious food, but unfortunately the concubine would not give them a glimpse.” As a result, Emperor Qianlong had no way but asked his Muslim solders to deliver the food that the concubine was used to.
Now, let’s turn our eyes to the fragrant concubine’s husband. After she was looted into the imperial palaces, the husband trudged thousands of kilometers from Xinjiang to Beijing, and hid himself in the Muslim army trying every possible means to find out his wife’s whereabouts. When he got the news that the emperor had ordered the solders in the Muslim army to cook a food that the concubine liked best, he thought it a very good chance to contact her. Hence, he made a plate of glutinous rice balls with the recipe passed down in his family. When the concubine saw the rice balls, she would know that her husband had come.
When he took the rice balls into the imperial palace, the eunuch in charge asked for the name of the food. The husband didn’t thought of it before; however, he was quick in reaction and named it Aiwowo as his name was Emeti. When the palace maids put this Aiwowo in front of the fragrant concubine, her eyes got brightened as she knew her husband had come. So she forced her spirits to take one ball and ate it slowly.