Happy Winter Solstice! 冬至快乐!冬至快樂!

It’s the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and people in China or of ethnic Chinese heritage everywhere are celebrating 冬至 Dōngzhì, which literally means “Winter’s Extreme”.

The winter or hibernal solstice is when one of the Earth’s poles is tilted furthest from the sun, and that day has the shortest period of daylight of the year, and the longest night. Depending on where you are, it could mark either the middle of winter or just its beginning! Either way: Brrrr!

As they do with major astrological events, many cultures celebrate the winter solstice; not just the Chinese, but also the Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese and other East Asians.

Not surprisingly, the festival has a lot to do with food.

Dumplings like 饺子 jiǎozi and 馄饨 húntún are a big feature in Northern China, as are “tonic” foods to build one’s resistance to the cold, such as lamb hotpot, duck stewed in ginger and other heat-building dishes.

Meanwhile, in the South, rice cakes called 冬至團 dōngzhìtuán (which literally translates as “winter solstice reunion”) are eaten. 

The Chinese further down south, such as the Cantonese and Taiwanese, like to get together to make and eat colourful glutinous rice balls called 汤圆 Tāngyuán. Tangyuan are often filled with peanut or sesame paste and served in a sweet soup or savoury broth.  Most supermarkets nowadays sell frozen pre-made tangyuan all-year round, so go try some!

Although currently based in Taiwan, we come from Singapore, and what I’m craving most during this chilly Chinese festival is a steaming huge serving of Indian curry!