Sitting at home tonight in my apartment in Sanlitun neighborhood of Beijing, I sit with a glass of Laphroaig, listening to The XX‘s album CoExist, while fireworks crack and pow through the night and bounce off buildings that weren’t yet constructed a year ago. Tonight is Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节), otherwise known as the Lantern Festival, celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the new year of the lunar calendar — the last day of the lunar New Year celebration. This also means the last night of pop-and-cracking for the year.

I started my day at the gym with my friend Lin Lin, running twenty minutes to my playlist I titled ‘Anthem‘. It powers me through a workout and through a day of getting stuff done. An hour at the gym helped justify the eating that ensued.

Stretching at the gym

Stretching at the gym

Post gym, we dim sum’d at Wang Jia Sha and savored an irresistible drunken chicken, marinated in Shaoxing wine.

Two ladies and a drunken chicken.

Two ladies and a drunken chicken

Afterwards, Lin Lin suggested we eat tangyuan at her house. Tangyuan are glutinous rice flour dumplings filled with sweetness like black sesame paste, peanut paste, or as Lin Lin had bought… chestnut paste. In Chinese, ‘tang‘ is homophonic to ‘tuan‘ which means ‘group’. ‘Yuan‘ means round, like a circle. So on the last night celebrating the lunar new year, many Chinese eat tangyuan as a symbol of togetherness.

Lin Lin decided to serve tangyuan in a ginger and brown sugar broth, with added flavor of aged mandarin peel and the essence of Shaoxing wine.

Lin Lin slicing up ginger to impart its heat into the broth.

Lin Lin slicing up ginger to impart its heat into the broth.

Ginger brown sugar and aged mandarin peel for rich and fragrant flavors.

Ginger brown sugar and aged mandarin peel for rich and fragrant flavors.

Lady Lin Lin cooking up 'togetherness'.

Lady Lin Lin cooking up ‘togetherness’.

Two tablespoons of Shaoxing wine.

Two tablespoons of Shaoxing wine.

Frozen and ready-made purple tangyuan, filled with chestnut paste. Boil until the float to the top.

Frozen and ready-made purple tangyuan, filled with chestnut paste. Boil until the float to the top.

ChestnutTangyuan

Tangyuan upon Lin Lin's design — dinner table (Gentle for Good).

Tangyuan upon Lin Lin’s design — dinner table (Gentle for Good).

Lin Lin served the tangyuan into three bowls and we walked across the hall to her neighbor where we ate together and paired the sweet moment with Japanese green tea speckled with gold flakes. Outside the fireworks exploded and the night hissed and cracked while we giggled and their Shibainu dogs entertained us with their foxy cuteness.

Tangyuan for three, in a ginger and Shaoxing broth.

Tangyuan for three, in a ginger and Shaoxing broth.

bitingTangyuan

Lin Lin’s neighbor has a seemingly year-round festive apartment. Three snake-year themed stuffed animals were perched next to the television in the living room.

Snake plush at the neighbor's home.

Snake plush at the neighbor’s home.

Japanese green tea speckled with gold flakes

Japanese green tea speckled with gold flakes

As I walked home along Gongti Beilu, crowds of people strolled the streets and flocked within The Village at Sanlitun. Cameras, iPhones and iPads were aimed at lovers, families, friends against the backdrops of tree lights. It was like Christmas in the States, but with so much more pomp and many, many more people! Street vendors selling snacks or knick knacks also narrowed the walk ways and no elbow passed unbrushed by another.

 Candied Chinese hawthorn (山楂 shānzhā) on skewers

Candied Chinese hawthorn (山楂 shānzhā) on skewers

Lin Lin’s Ginger Tangyuan Broth

Ingredients

  • 1 large ginger root, sliced large for easy removal
  • 4-5 pieces of ginger brown sugar
  • a few pieces of aged Mandarin peel
  • 1 liter water
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
  • 1 package frozen tangyuan (12 pieces)

Method

  1. Place ginger slices, ginger brown sugar, and Mandarin peel in a pot and fill with a 1 liter of water. Bring to a boil then lower flame and simmer for 25 minutes.
  2. Add Shaoxing wine and tangyuan. Bring to a boil. When tangyuan float to the top, remove from heat and serve.
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