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The Hungry Ghost Festival: What Foods You Should Offer to the Dead

Watch out — the hungry ghosts are on their way to the world of the living!

According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the seventh lunar month is that time of the year in which the gates of the underworld open, allowing the spirits of the dead to visit their living relatives. It is said that after several days of wandering, these visiting spirits eventually turn restless with hunger, which is a responsibility that we, as living members of their families, must handle to ensure that the dead do not wreak havoc on our world. 

In 2023, Ghost Month will start on August 16 and end on September 14. The most important day of the Ghost Month — the day in which the spirits are at their hungriest — is the Hungry Ghost Festival, which will take place on August 30 this year. The event annually takes place on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month to honor the spirits of our ancestors by appeasing their starving souls. 

Now, you might wonder: What exactly are our dead ancestors hungry for?

The simple answer is, as it turns out, food! Check out this food listicle for what kind of dishes you should prepare and how you should offer them to the wandering souls of our dear departed ones: 


1. Their Favorite Foods

It shouldn’t be surprising that the dead may retain the preferences they had when they were alive. If your ancestors, for example, spent their living days eating Hokkien and Cantonese dishes, then it would be common to prepare dishes from those cuisines. Likewise, if your departed relatives were vegetarians, it would be disrespectful to serve them any meat. 

Basically, serve up what you think is familiar and comforting to them. That thought alone goes a long way. 



2. Meat or No Meat?

If you do end up serving meat to departed souls, do make sure to continue doing so in the future. Apparently, hungry spirits have amazing memory, which means that they might start forming grudges if you don’t serve meat like you did the previous year. Remember: Consistency is key. If you want to include chicken, pork, or duck in your menu for the dead, be prepared to do the same every year. 



3.  The Sets of Three Rule

As a general rule, you should always prepare three bowls of rice, three cups of Chinese tea or rice wine, and three sets of chopsticks for your prayer altars. Three is an important number to make note of since it represents the three realms of existence: heaven, earth, and the underworld. 



4. Lucky and Symbolic Foods

You can invite a lot of great fortune and positivity to your household depending on the food you choose to prepare. Pineapples, for example, are known to attract good luck. Noodles represent longevity and a well-lived life. San choy or Chinese lettuce symbolizes prosperity. Huat kuih — a steamed Chinese rice cake — brings in success. 



5. Small Snacks for the Orphaned Souls

Some souls are simply passing by or no longer have families to care for them. In this case, it would be a nice gesture to set up a small altar for them along the side of the road, too. Traditionally, some snacks that you can provide would be uncooked rice, peanuts, raw noodles, fruits, candies, tea, and rice wine. If you want to put in the extra effort, then a couple of vegetable dishes would also not go amiss. 



At the end of the day, Ghost Month is celebrated to honor family, alongside the lives of those who have passed away. Besides preparing offerings for the dead, be sure to also make a feast for the living! Share a table with your loved ones, and reconnect with family by remembering the present together with the past. 



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