The annual Lantern Festival is one of the highlights of the Chinese calendar with feasting and celebrations. We’re taking the opportunity to look at Chinese cookery books in our Cookery Collection.
On 11th February it was Yuanxiao Festival known as the Lantern Festival. Traditionally people release ‘tiandeng’ — sky lanterns, view decorated lanterns through the night, attend dancing and singing performances and eat ‘yuanxiao’ or ‘tangyuan’. It is the first full moon of the New Year, the day representing completion, perfection and a good day. It marks the last day of the Lunar Chinese New Year.
Just like China’s other traditional holidays, the Lantern Festival has its own special dish – ‘yuanxiao’, or sweet dumpling soup. Amongst our Cookery Collection can be found the book ‘Zhongguo xiao chi‘ (1981). An image from the book is shown. Page 77 informs us that: yuanxiao, also called ‘yuanzi’, ‘tangyuan’or ‘tuanzi’, existed during the Kaiyuan period (713-741 AD) of the Tang Dynasty, and: “家制米圆相饷，即呼之为元宵” which can be translated as: the rice ball made at home for a treat is called yuanxiao.
The filling is usually composed of different kinds of fruit kernels and sugar. Although the sweet dumplings differ in name and recipe from the North and South, they are always made with glutinous rice flour for the outside. The sweet dumplings are rounded and white, as this represents the moon on the night, and the wish and anticipation of family unity. The name ‘tangyuan’ is more common in the South while the older name ‘yuanxiao’ is used in the North.
The Chinese lunar calendar has twenty four terms. ‘The festive food of China‘ (1991) features special meals prepared and eaten to celebrate the different terms. ‘China’s food: A photographic journey‘ (1986) formerly belonged to the food journalist Michael Bateman. It is part of our extensive printed Bateman Collection. The book is packed with stunning images of Chinese food. Some photographs show the beauty of raw ingredients such as vegetables and grains. They include intricate carvings of vegetables and fruit suitable for a grand banquet.