In Southern California, Winter doesn’t arrive until the holiday sales summon it. Yay consumerism, yay capitalism!
Actually, the Winter solstice this year is on Dec 21, 2020, just 4 days before Christmas (if you celebrate). For my family, we enjoy the season as an opportunity to get together with extended family and feast on our American holiday favorites – turkey, ham, steak, lamb chops, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, cheesecake, etc. However, we also continue with the Chinese cultural tradition of eating tang yuan 湯圓, or rice balls, on the day of the winter solstice to celebrate family unity. Obviously, this year we will NOT be physically uniting 🙁 So I’ll have to cook and eat them by myself. As someone who has less patience for production than I do for consumption, I usually buy the pre-made frozen ones anyway.
Whenever rice balls are served, consume an even number of them. According to my mom, even numbers are wholesome and auspicious. Odd numbers, avoid at all costs. Don’t mind if I do if that means I get to eat more. My favorite kind? Red bean or black sesame filled! I usually eat them in a dessert soup with other smaller but colorful rice balls (without filling). I especially enjoy them with some fermented rice (jiu niang 酒釀), edible flowers, and a hint of yellow rock candy sweetness melted into the soup.
A few years ago when I visited Taipei for the millionth time, of course I had to hit up the night markets, one in particular was the Tonghua Night Market 台北通化夜市. There, my family took me to 御品元冰火湯圓 for tangyuan over shaved ice. Jaw. Dropped. Get in my mouth and into my belly! It makes perfect sense to have steaming rice balls atop a smoking bed of shaved ice. It’s the concept of yin and yang. Hot and cold. The owners/creators literally built their business around this food concept. So simple yet so brilliant, I can’t not share.
Whatever your favorite winter holiday foods are, I hope you all continue to find comfort in them this year while you are social distancing. It’s going to be a cold winter in more ways than we’d like. Cozy up at home, and literally avoid people outside your home like the plague!
Eat wit peace,