WHAT DO CHINESE PEOPLE EAT ON 冬至 DONGZHI WINTER SOLSTICE?
1. 汤圆 Tāngyuán Glutinous Rice Balls
The Southern Chinese, such as the Cantonese and Taiwanese, like to get together to make and eat colourful glutinous rice balls called 汤圆 Tāngyuán.
They are also sometimes called 冬至团 dōngzhìtuán (which literally translates as “winter solstice reunion”) or 冬至丸 dōngzhì wán (winter solstice balls). Some don’t even come in soup; they are steamed and rolled in nuts or sesame powder like the 擂圆 léi yuán in Linhai, Taizhou, Zhejiang.
Tangyuan are often filled with peanut or sesame paste and served in a sweet soup (usually made with ginger or brown sugar, and sometimes red bean) or a savoury broth. Most supermarkets nowadays sell frozen pre-made tangyuan all-year round, so go try some!
Yen Yen remembers really enjoying making tangyuan with the family because it’s like playing with play dough and it was just so loud and messy and full of flour! Also because the glutinous rice balls are so colorful!
Sing a Song of 汤圆 Tāngyuán
As you make your tangyuan, why not try singing this traditional Taiwanese Minnan/Hokkien song?
We’ve provided the Mandarin pinyin and English translation for your reference:
冬节圆 挲圆圆 Dōng jié yuán, sā yuán yuán
In the fullness of the Winter festival, we mould the tangyuan
圆圆趁大钱 yuán yuán chèn dàqián
The tangyuan can make us rich
冬节圆 食甜甜 dōng jié yuán, shí tián tián
In the fullness of the Winter festival, we eat sweet things
甜甜有福气 tián tián yǒu fúqi
Sweetness carries luck
冬节圆圆 阁甜甜 dōng jié yuán yuán gé tián tián
Each tangyuan is sweet
平安富贵感谢天 píng’ān fùguì gǎnxiè tiān
We thank heaven for peace and good fortune
2. 饺子 Jiǎozi Dumplings
Dumplings like 饺子 jiǎozi and 馄饨 húntún (wontons) are a big feature in Northern China around Dongzhi.
There’s an amusing story that dumplings look like ears, and eating dumplings in the winter will prevent you from getting cold and frost-bitten ears! (There are some accounts which suggest that 饺子 jiǎozi used to be known as 饺耳 jiǎo ěr—耳 ěr means “ear”.) You can feed me dumplings any time of the “ear”! 😁😋
There are soooo many different kinds of dumplings—different fillings, different wrappers, different cooking styles. That’s why we at Dim Sum Warriors value diversity so much!
Also popular are “tonic” foods to build one’s resistance to the cold, such as lamb hotpot, duck stewed in ginger and other heat-building dishes. Lamb/mutton 羊肉 (yángròu) is a common dumpling filling, while ginger 姜 (jiāng) is used to spice up a lot of Dongzhi Festival food.
When we moved to Taiwan, I learned that the Dongzhi Festival is the season for Ginger “Mom” Duck Hotpot 姜母鸭 jiāng mǔ yā.
Everyone also drinks Ginger Tea 老姜茶 lǎo jiāng chá , while all the markets start selling cubes of Old Ginger with Brown Sugar 薑母黑糖 jiāng mǔ hēitáng. (My wife loves it because she tosses it into her tea and it becomes Teh Halia or ginger tea, as sold in Singapore and Malaysia.)
For our family, Dongzhi Festival comes right after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. It’s often the time to cuddle up with family and eat warm stews and soups. Maybe our favourite thing to do is get the body warm through hot springs 泡温泉 pào wēnquán! Our favorite place in the winter is the outdoor hotspring at Jiuzhizhe.
It’s also a quiet time of gratitude for those who came before us, and restful contemplation of how our year has gone as we prepare for all the energy and activities that will surely come with the new year.