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Lantern Festival

February 6, 2012 by staff 

Lantern Festival, Celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar New Year, Lantern Festival is a day for appreciating the bright full moon, reuniting with family and marking the end of the 2-week long Spring Festival holiday. And as people in Beijing busy preparing for the big night on Monday, CCTV reporter Li Qiuyuan gives a “taste” of the festival.

Almost every traditional festival in China comes with its own festive dish, and the Lantern Festival is no exception.

Apart from the usual fireworks, riddles and folk dance, the festival is welcomed with sweet dumplings in soup known as “Yuanxiao” in the North and “Tangyuan” in the South.

This means great business for the Jinfang Snack Bar in central Beijing.

Li Qiuyuan, CCTV reporter, said, “I’m now on one of the most ancient and famous business streets in beijing, Qianmen Avenue, and This Snack Bar right here is one of the oldest brands on the street, it’s famous for making traditional Beijing snacks, and of course at this time of the year, Yuanxiao is definitely the most popular snack here, and thanks to the open kitchen there, people can actually enjoying watching the chef making these yuanxiao while waiting.”

It is believed that the custom of eating Yuanxiao began in the Song Dynasty, but became popular during the Ming and Qing periods. And it’s of course alive and well today.

Local residents said, “I have had Yuanxiao every lantern festival ever since I was little.” “It’s Yuanxiao festival, so I have to get some Yuanxiao, some are for my family, and some are for my friends.”

I’m always curious about how these little sticky rice balls are made, and today I’m going to find out.

It turns out the process is not unlike rolling tiny snowballs!

Qiu Yunhe, owner of Jinfang Snack Bar, said, “The stuffing of Yuanxiao is pre-made, we first dip the stuffing in water to make it sticky, and then roll them in sticky rice flour in this container. We do this 4 times.”

Li Qiuyuan, CCTV reporter, said, “So this container is filled with sticky rice flour, and this right here is the stuffing, it looks kind of like hard candy, so by rolling the stuffing around in a container like this, layers of flour will stick to the candy core, and it’ll gets bigger and bigger until it’s perfectly round and just about the right size, interesting!”

The usual fillings for Yuanxiao or Tangyuan are made of sugar, sesame, walnuts, osmanthus flowers, and bean or jujube paste.

Yuanxiao today though, is getting more and more experimental – with new flavours constantly being added to the menu.

Qiu Yunhe, owner of Jinfang Snack Bar, said, “Some of the popular new flavors for this year’s lantern festival are blueberry and minced beef – they both sell pretty well. ”

And just like any other festive food in China, these sticky rice dumpling balls have a very special symbolic meaning.

Although the dumpling balls differ in name and recipe from the North and the South, they are always round and white – representing the moon on the night of the lantern festival.

Li Qiuyuan, CCTV reporter, said, “The Chinese name of Tangyuan sounds very close to the word “Tuanyuan”, which means the whole family getting together happily, so it’s a symbol of staying together. And also because the roundness symbolizes wholeness and togetherness in Chinese culture, so it’s a way of people celebrating the happy reunion of the family and also expressing their best wishes for their future.”

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