3 Chinese Foods That Put Me in a Holiday Mood

What do the holidays taste like to you? Growing up, I would have said things like cranberry, gingerbread and all of the chocolates in my Advent calendar. But ever since I married a Chinese man, I’ve come to also associate many of his foods with the most wonderful time of the year.

Here are three Chinese foods guaranteed to put me in a holiday mood:

By 我乃野云鹤 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58911328

#1: Dumplings (Jiaozi)

For years, when my husband and I spent Christmas together in the US, it just wasn’t the holidays without having a dumpling-making party. Whether it was with several friends or just the two of us, we would spend a long evening, sometimes even Christmas Eve, folding up mountains of handmade dumplings, also known as jiaozi. My favorite filling is still tofu and pickled vegetables (including kimchi — yum!).

So if you put a stack of jiaozi dumpling wrappers before me, along with a heaping bowl of filling, it immediately puts me in a holiday mood. Especially when you’re able to share the experience with friends.

Why not try it yourself? A dumpling-making party could become one of your favorite holiday traditions. To get started, here’s one recipe for vegetarian jiaozi dumplings (http://thewoksoflife.com/2015/09/vegetable-dumplings/) and one for meat jiaozi dumplings (http://rasamalaysia.com/recipe-chinese-jiaozi-leeks-and-pork/)

sesame balls#2: Sesame balls (Maqiu)

On the winter solstice, my husband’s family always has a huge family dinner, along with a huge helping of homemade sesame balls or maqiu. It was years before I actually tried one. But once I did, I found these treats, made of sticky rice dough coated in fragrant roasted black sesame seeds and sugar, a delicious and simple holiday treat.

They’re one of the easiest things to make — you just need glutinous rice flour, sesame seeds and sugar. If you’re intrigued, check out this recipe I have for sesame balls, along with the story about how I used to confuse them with tangyuan for years! (https://www.speakingofchina.com/china-articles/mistaken-winter-solstice-family-recipe-tangyuan/)

laba porridge

#3: Laba porridge

During last month of the lunar year, it’s tradition in many parts of China (including where my husband’s family lives) to have a bowl of this colorful porridge. I first tried it in early 2014 and immediately fell in love with the sweet, rich flavors of all the “treasures” within the porridge — which could include everything from dates and goji berries to peanuts and lotus seeds. With all the eye-catching fruits and nuts hidden within this porridge, it kind of reminds me of fruitcake, another holiday food back in the West. Except, unlike fruitcake, you don’t have all of that dread or the associated jokes.

If you’re tired of fruitcake and looking for a festive new dish to serve during the holidays, consider laba porridge. Here’s one recipe: http://www.healthy-chinese-recipe.com/laba-porridge-recipe.html

What are your favorite holiday foods?

How to spend Christmas in China with your Chinese family

A Very Chinese Christmas Stocking

What do you do when no one else notices Christmas is coming? That’s what it’s like here in China’s countryside as I spend December with my husband’s family — a family that never had the tradition to celebrate this holiday.

Well, I say — if they can’t bring the holiday to you, you bring the holiday to them. So this year, I’m giving my Chinese family a taste of Christmas…with some inevitable Chinese characteristics.

1. Pull out the old Christmas tree. There’s nothing that says Christmas quite like a tree — and fortunately, they’re easy enough to find in larger cities in China. Back when I first lived in China, I bought a fake Christmas tree from a local supermarket and it followed me through the years…until I left, and it was left at my inlaws’ home. Well, turns out they stored it all these years and it’s still lovely enough to bring me some holiday cheer. I plan to decorate it with the supply of Chinese-style ornaments I’ve acquired over the years, and can’t wait to see it shining brightly on Christmas Eve.

2. Stream holiday music online. One of the best gifts anyone living in China can have is a fully functional Internet connection. Find your favorite online station and stream holiday music, if available (I’m impartial to Folk Alley’s holiday stream myself). And if you’re really ambitious, use it to teach your family a few favorite Christmas carols.

3. Serve your family a Christmas dinner. Isn’t eating half the pleasure of the holidays? And everyone has to eat — so your family in China surely won’t protest if you suggest doing dinner for Christmas or Christmas Eve.

Of course, I can’t make exactly the same dinner my mom or grandma used to make. Here in China, I have a toaster oven and a cupboard full of ingredients completely different from those I used in the US. But I can always improvise. For example, Chinese haw fruit makes a wonderful substitute for cranberries and they’re widely available in China during the winter. Instead of the chocolate cake I hoped to make (sorry, no cocoa powder in the supermarket), I’ll flavor it with the mandarin oranges that are so plentiful nearly everyone in the village gives me a few when I visit. Ham is a traditional Christmas roast not commonly found in China, but I can make something else from pork (my husband insists on ribs, who can blame him?).

But if, say, you can’t live without cranberries at the table, then head to one of China’s online stores. Yes, Virginia, you can buy dried cranberries in China…though it will cost much, much more.

4. Spread some generosity. The Christmas season is all about giving…so why not give a little something back to your family in the form of some gift? It doesn’t have to be expensive either, just something to show your generosity and love. I’m planning on setting up some “Christmas hats” (using the plethora of knitted hats around the house in place of Christmas stockings) and stuffing them with some candies from the local supermarket.

If you’re in China, how are you planning to celebrate Christmas? Or if you’ve spent Christmas in China, what did you do? Share your experiences or ideas in the comments!

My Holidays Start With Five-Spice Turkey and Chinese Dumplings

When you build a life with someone from another culture, sometimes you just learn how to transcend your past and create a new future, something that feels as tangible as the traditions you once knew (or never knew).

In my home, I know it’s the holidays when cranberry sauce, hand-rolled Chinese dumplings and five-spice turkey hit the table.

That’s what we had on ours last week, when John and I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner in our home. He and I like to joke that it’s a tradition now, that the season just wouldn’t be right without it, even though it’s only our second year of hosting people for the holiday.

In fact, this so-called tradition happened by accident. Last year, the friend I hoped to spend the holiday made her plans without us, and we weren’t invited. Damn. Just as I started imagining a Thanksgiving without the dinner, my husband said, “why don’t we make it ourselves?” Continue reading “My Holidays Start With Five-Spice Turkey and Chinese Dumplings”

How To Make It A Very Chinese Christmas

A Very Chinese Christmas Stocking
There are many ways you can make this a very Chinese Christmas, such as putting your name in Chinese (and English) on your Christmas stocking (like mine).

When you straddle two different cultures, sometimes, you wish your holidays did too. Holidays like Christmas.

I still love and embrace the traditions of my childhood, growing up in a Catholic home with a fresh-cut spruce trimmed with tinsel, and lights and an Angel. We hung our stockings, exchanged presents by the tree, hung wreaths, shared Christmas carols, baked Christmas cookies, and decorated our doors with pictures of Santa and the Reindeer and Elves.

But now, with my Chinese husband John, I’ve enjoyed creating a few new traditions and twists on the old, to make the holiday reflect the international, cross-cultural couple we are.

So how can you make this a very Chinese Christmas? Start with these five tips. Continue reading “How To Make It A Very Chinese Christmas”