THE Winter Solstice, one of 24 Solar Terms on the Chinese lunar calendar, usually falls on December 22, with the shortest day and longest night in the northern hemisphere.
The Winter Solstice was prominent among all Solar Terms in successive dynasties since the Zhou Dynasty (C. 1100-256 BC). When the Temple of Heaven was built during the reign of Emperor Yongle in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), festivities were held there, as well as the rite of offering sacrifices to the Heaven on the Winter Solstice. In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), rites to worship ancestors were held at the Kunning Palace in the Forbidden City and at ancestral shrines in mansions of princes and dignitaries, praying for good fortune and wealth for the next year.
Stewed pork rib soup with radish.
Wonton was an essential dish on the morning of Winter Solstice to worship ancestors, and five small wontons were put in a bowl to serve. In the afternoon, family members ate wonton with different kinds of stuffing in accordance with their own status. Affluent families used roasted duck with winter bamboo shoots or chicken breasts with beans, while ordinary people chose pork and spinach, leek, and different gourds as alternatives. Making wonton could be a complex process for the Manchurian who would first wrap small dumplings, followed by pinching together two pointed ends as a shoe-shaped silver ingot. They boiled the wonton and then laid them in the bowl with cooked vermicelli beneath, pouring in chicken or duck soup with seasonings including seaweed, dried shrimp, coriander, pepper powder, sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice vinegar.
Chinese people believe that it is the best time to take extra nourishment for the freezing cold days, and for northerners, it is customary to eat jiaozi or wonton on the Winter Solstice. Other foods rich in calories, such as pigeon egg, quail, venison, pheasants, and various hotpots were also popular in the old days. From the Winter Solstice, the coldest days of winter start, which are divided into nine sessions with each one covering a period of nine days. Chinese people begin to shujiu (counting down the nine sessions of wintry days) and hotpot is a good choice for long-lasting chilly days. For wealthy families in ancient times, the food used in hotpot should change with the passing of each of the nine wintry sessions, and instant-boiled mutton was for the first nine days.
People are also advised to eat more nuts, fresh vegetables and fruits, such as pears, oranges, and apples.
Here is one more nutritious and delicious dish that is worth mentioning: stewed pork rib soup with radish and lotus seed:
Prepare 250g pork rib, 250g radish, 30g dried lotus seed, two pieces of ginger, 5g salt, and white pepper powder. Chop the ribs into chunks and put them into boiling water, and then fish them out. Boil the dried lotus seed and cut the radish into blocks. Put enough water into the pot; add in ribs and ginger flakes, boiling the mixture for 30 minutes. Throw in radish blocks and boil for another 15 minutes. Finally, add in lotus seed together with salt and pepper powder.
TONG CHANGYOU is a Beijing Cuisine master and member of China Cuisine Association and Beijing Cuisine Association.