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A taste of spring in China

Here are some delicious dishes to welcome spring from south-eastern China

<p>Yanduxian is one of the most popular spring specials from south-eastern China.&nbsp;</p>

Yanduxian is one of the most popular spring specials from south-eastern China. 

It feels like spring is finally blooming in Charlottesville as warmer days cause students to shed their jackets and encourage picnics on the Lawn. After finishing up my classes at Wilson Hall, I can’t help but stop by the Amphitheater to relax and soak in the sun. One day, when I was eating lunch at the Amphitheater, I suddenly realized that I have been away from China, my home country, for almost a year. I was struck by a sense of nostalgia since at this time of year, I’d usually be enjoying traditional spring Chinese meals with my family.

Where I come from, we believe that people should have food based on fresh ingredients that are harvested in the current season. Chinese philosopher Confucius once said — “Refrain from eating that which is not in season.” Also, we cherish spring especially as seen in this Chinese proverb — “Make your whole year's plan in the spring and the whole day's plan in the morning,” which demonstrates our culture’s emphasis on spring. As a country that’s famous for its different delicacies, China has many dishes to welcome and cherish spring. Here are two examples of my favorite spring Chinese dishes straight from my family’s dinner table. 

Yanduxian

Yanduxian is one of the most popular spring specials from south-eastern China. Its name comes from Wu Chinese, a dialect from that region. The word itself translates to mean its proper ingredients — a soup made from spring bamboo shoots, pork ham shank and fresh pork. Some people also add dried tofu as an extra ingredient. 

My mother always cooked this dish in the spring and we would enjoy it together. She would always take time out of her busy schedule in order to make this traditional, yet culinarily complicated to make. It is nostalgic to recall my life in China this time last year. 

As in early spring when there was still a crisp chill to the air, I would enjoy a hot cup of soup with a taste of spring. After being stewed for several hours, Yanduxian takes on a perfect state — the bamboo shoots taste meaty flavor while the meat also carries hints of bamboo shoots. The bamboo shoots absorbed the oil in the pork, refreshing the dish and enhancing its savoriness. This intermingling of flavors makes the Yanduxian taste incredible and just melt in your mouth. Eating this warm, delicious meal while watching the buds on the trees begin to bloom makes me realize that spring is coming. 

Lion Head

Can a lion’s head be cooked? Isn’t it scary? No worries! In southeastern China, “Lion Head” means stewed meatballs. However, “Lion Head” is much larger than normal meatballs — they are as big as a fist. Over 1,200 years ago, Chinese people 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 by famous Chinese poet Li Bai — “go to Yangzhou in March during the season of blooming flowers,” a famous city in southeastern China. Last year, following what Li Bai said, I went to Yangzhou to explore the beauty of spring in this ancient city. Lion Head, as the most famous dish in Yangzhou, gave me a deep impression indeed. 

In Yangzhou, Lion’s head is deliciously light. It focuses on the original taste of ingredients. The meatball is made from chopped pork, which includes 40 percent of fatty meat and 60 percent of lean meat. Diced water chestnuts and spring bamboo shoots are added to give the meatball a refreshing taste. It is also noteworthy that the meatballs are served with chicken soup that has been simmered for more than three hours. The special combination of soup and pork is what I miss the most from last spring. 

These two dishes symbolize the culture of cooking in spring in my hometown. Spring is considered as the start of the year and the symbolism of the new beginnings. While everyone is trying to have a new start, please do not forget to have a good appetite. If anyone knows a typical taste of spring in America, you are welcome to share in the comments. 

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