It looks like spring is finally blooming in Charlottesville as warmer days force students to shed their jackets and encourage picnics on the lawn. After finishing my classes at Wilson Hall, I can’t resist stopping by the amphitheater to relax and soak up the sun. One day while having lunch at the Amphitheatre, I suddenly realized that I had been away from China, my home country, for almost a year. I was struck by a feeling of nostalgia because at this time of year I usually enjoyed traditional Chinese spring meals with my family.
Where I come from, we believe that people should have food made from fresh ingredients harvested during the current season. The Chinese philosopher Confucius once said:Chorus to eat what is not in season. Also we cherish spring especially as seen in this Chinese proverb — “Plan the whole year in the spring and plan the whole day in the morning,” which demonstrates our culture’s emphasis on spring. As a country famous for its various delicacies, China offers many dishes to welcome and cherish spring. Here are two examples of my favorite springtime Chinese dishes straight from my family’s dinner table.
Yanduxian is one of the most popular spring specialties in southeast China. Its name comes from Chinese Wu, a dialect of this region. The word itself translates to its own ingredients – a soup made from spring bamboo shoots, pork knuckle and fresh pork. Some people also add dried tofu as an additional ingredient.
My mother always cooked this dish in the spring and we enjoyed it together. She always took time out of her busy schedule to prepare this traditional dish, but culinary complicated to prepare. It’s nostalgic to think back to my life in China around this time last year.
Like in early spring, when there was still a crisp chill in the air, I enjoyed a cup of hot soup that tasted like spring. After being cooked for several hours, Yanduxian takes on a perfect state – the bamboo shoots taste meaty while the meat also bears notes of bamboo shoots. The bamboo shoots soaked up the pork oil, refreshing the dish and enhancing its flavor. This blend of flavors makes the Yanduxian taste amazing and melt in your mouth. Eating this hot, delicious meal while watching the tree buds begin to bloom makes me realize that spring is coming.
Can you cook a lion’s head? Isn’t that scary? Carefree! In southeast China, “Lion’s Head” means stewed meatballs. However, “Lion Head” is much larger than normal meatballs – they are as big as a fist. More than 1200 years agothe Chinese thought the meatballs looked like a lion’s head and gave this dish a special name.
What does this dish have to do with spring? There is a quote from the famous Chinese poet Li Bay — “go to Yangzhou in March during blooming flower season”, a famous city in southeast China. Last year, following what Li Bai said, I went to Yangzhou to explore the beauty of spring in this ancient city. Lion’s head, as Yangzhou’s most famous dish, made a deep impression on me.
In Yangzhou, Lion’s Head is deliciously light. It focuses on the original taste of the ingredients. The meatball is made from ground pork, which is 40% fatty meat and 60% lean meat. Diced water chestnuts and spring bamboo shoots are added to give the meatball a refreshing taste. It is also worth noting that the meatballs are served with chicken soup simmered for more than three hours. The special combination of soup and pork is what I miss the most since last spring.
These two dishes symbolize the culture of spring cooking in my hometown. Spring is considered the start of the year and the symbolism of new beginnings. While everyone is trying to get a fresh start, remember to have a healthy appetite. If anyone knows a typical taste of spring in America, you are welcome to share it in the comments.