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Yummy Food

All you want to know about Cantonese birthday buns

Published on May 06, 2022 | Last Updated May 11, 2022
Rows of colourfully decorated Cantonese peach buns.

Skip the cupcakes, skip the cake. Let's celebrate another year with a special (and delicious) birthday bun!

What is a birthday bun?

A plate with several rose tinted peach buns

The birthday bun is also known as the shou bao (say “s-ow b-ow”) or longevity peach. It is a steamed bun with lotus seed filling made into the shape of a peach. Cantonese people give it on birthdays as a wish for many more birthdays in the future.

What is it made of?

A pile of recently finished peach buns in the foreground, behind it a baker works on making more

A baker hard at work making beautiful peach buns. (China Photos/Getty Images)

The bun is made of wheat flour and has a signature bouncy and soft texture. The baker lightly sprinkles red food colouring to create a peachy pink colour. Some may add more decorations like leaves. Other bakers are more elaborate and make one volleyball-sized bun and add little buns inside!

Who eats it?

A trio of reddish peach buns rest on a plate

The birthday bun is a Cantonese dish. It originated from Guang Dong (say “guh-wong doh-n-guh”) province in southeast China. It’s common in southeast Chinese culture to give symbolic gifts to friends, family or neighbours on their birthdays.

Other types of gifts are gold in the shape of a peach, or yee mein (noodles) that you eat together. The noodles, not the gold! These gifts mean you want the birthday person to live forever.

Where are Cantonese people from?

A map showing the Pearl River Basin near Hong Kong, in southeastern China

A map of the area around the Pearl River Basin in southeastern China. (Wikimedia/Croquant/CC BY 3.0)

The word Cantonese is from the word Canton. Canton is the Colonial British translation of Guang Zhou, the capital of Guang Dong province. Cantonese were originally people from Guang Zhou. But these days, Cantonese people live in various cities in the Pearl River Basin region, Hong Kong and Macau.

Cantonese people also live in cities all over the world. Some Canadian cities include Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Richmond, Markham and more!

Why is a peach the symbol of long life?

A statue of the Chinese god Shou Xing Gong, he has a white beard and carries a cane with a peach on it

The peach is an icon for long life that comes from the folklore of Shou Xing Gong (say “s-ow sing goh-n-guh”). Shou Xing Gong was known to have lived a very long life despite being a sick boy growing up. The peach he carries is a symbol of immortality. That's why in art and sculpture, you always see Shou Xing Gong carrying one.

The Cantonese name for birthday bun is shou bao which is said to be named after Shou Xing Gong.

From birthday bun to birthday cake

A decorative bright red cake with peach buns set on top

Yes, there are even peach bun cakes! (Submitted by Daan Go Cake Lab)

Transforming over time, birthday buns come in many forms. Some Cantonese people today make cake into the shape of a peach instead of making buns. It's the kind of cake that has layers of sponge cake and frosting! Some will put other kinds of filling inside birthday buns like red bean paste or sesame filling.

Guang Dong province is a place of diversity where people keep traditions alive while also making them their own.

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