Dumplings for Chinese New Year
Whether you prefer them boiled, steamed or pan-fried; filled with pork, prawns or tofu, dumplings are always a hit when a Chinese family gathers to eat. But they are an absolute must for Chinese New Year.
A bite of History
Dumplings are one of those favourite foods that have been around so long, no one is quite sure who invented them or when. However, the most popular story makes them about 1800 years old!
According to this tale, Zhang Zhongjing – a famous practitioner of Chinese medicine and an inventor – came up with the warming parcels of goodness as a cure for frostbite. He was visiting his ancestral village during a particularly bitterly cold winter and noticed that people were suffering from frostbite, particularly around their ears. So, he mixed together mutton, black pepper and medicinal herbs and folded them into ear-shaped dumplings. The sick people were served these dumplings in a bowl of soup and, after a few days, they got better. Everyone was so impressed and grateful that they carried on making the recipe (with a few improvements over the years).
Good Food, Good Family, Good Luck
Old fashion gold inglot
We’re in no danger of frostbite here in South Africa, but in China and Taiwan, Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year is also called the Spring Festival, as it ushers in the beginning of spring after a long, cold winter.
Chinese food traditions are full of symbolism: Dumplings are an essential part of the meal on New Year’s Eve, because they are specially folded to look like old-fashioned gold ingots (sort of like little boats). This means they represent wealth. For extra luck, a coin is traditionally hidden inside one of the dumplings. Whoever finds it will have particular prosperity in the new year (just like the British tradition of hiding a coin in the Christmas pudding!) For a more modern version, some people hide a nut in the lucky dumpling or colour it yellow.
The very act of gathering together as a family and making dumplings brings good luck to everyone involved. New Year is the most important holiday of the year and often the only time everyone travels home to be together. Making dumplings for a big group is a challenge, but it can be done if everyone works together, dividing up the tasks of making the dough, rolling out the wrappers, preparing the filling, folding the dumplings, and cooking the finished product. This all represents working together and staying together for the family.
There’s no such thing as too many dumplings… But, if you would like to add some variety to your Chinese New Year’s meal, there are plenty of other traditional foods to choose from.
Spring rolls symbolise wealth because they look like gold bars.
Fish is a pun on “surplus”, so eating fish (preferably whole) means you’ll always have extra.
Longevity noodles are special, extra-long noodles that represent long life.
Oranges are round and golden, and the Chinese word is a pun on “success”.