We celebrated my nephew’s birthday earlier this month with a special dinner at home, with only the most immediate family members, partly because of the pandemic but also because hosting big birthday parties is never really our thing. It is hard to believe that my nephew is 19 when it seems only a short while ago that I was still carrying him in his swaddling clothes, and his sole means of communication was making baby noises and blowing spit bubbles. After dinner, a cake was brought out and candles were lit, which my nephew blew out after making a silent wish. This Western ritual, which originated in Europe, of observing a birthday with cake has become universal. It is pretty much expected at every birthday celebration around the world and across most cultures. But what do the Chinese eat as a special birthday treat other than the Western confectionery called cake, which they have wholeheartedly embraced, as have most non-European people around the world? Hated by generations of Chinese, their reappearing statues teach not to forget Eggs are one of the things eaten by the Chinese on their birthdays. Given that a birthday is the anniversary of the day that a person was born, the symbolism of the egg is obvious. The shape of an egg also represents fullness and completeness, qualities that you cannot have too much of in your life. Another food for the birthday table are noodles, the longer the better. For the Chinese, birthdays are not only a celebration of being born, but also an occasion to wish for a long life. Hence, long noodles are eaten by people celebrating their birthday with the hope for longevity. For it to work, some say that one must slurp the entire lengths of the noodles into the mouth and not bite them off. Another food that is immediately recognisable to the Chinese as a special birthday treat is the longevity peach ( shoutao ), which is actually a bun in the shape of a peach daubed with food colouring in various hues of pink. Sometimes, longevity peaches have sweet fillings made from lotus seeds or red beans. In Chinese mythology, peaches are often symbols of good health and longevity. The association of peaches with birthdays is often attributed to Sun Bin (382-316 BC), a military strategist who was the descendant of Sun Zi (of The Art of War fame). On his mother’s 80th birthday, Sun Bin gifted her a peach, which, according to legend, restored her to her youth after she ate the fruit. Thereafter, people started to eat peaches on their birthdays. However, peaches were not available all year round. In ancient times, difficulty in transport also meant that most people who lived in areas that did not produce the fruit would have to do without. Amid the rush to help Ukraine, the Chinese commoner who stopped an invasion In time, the longevity peaches that mimicked real peaches were made, which could be enjoyed whenever and wherever one celebrated one’s birthday. Nowadays, in a perfect melding of East and West, old and new, I have seen birthday cakes that are made to look like giant longevity peaches on steroids. Whether it is cakes or ersatz peaches that we eat on our birthdays, we are commemorating our birth, hoping for a better future, and celebrating our life. On his 19th birthday, I wish my nephew a long, happy and fulfilling life.