The traditional Chinese lunar calendar divides the year into 24 solar terms based on seasonal changes and the changes in weather that they encompass. These changes have played an important role in guiding seasonal human behavior and activities, especially farming, that continue to this day.
Spring equinox (春分 chūn fēn), which begins Mar 20 and ends Apr 3 this year, and is the fourth solar term of the year. The equinox marks the time in which the length of day and night is equal due to the sun being perpendicular with the Earth's equator, and ushers in gradually longer days in the northern hemisphere.
In China, people attach great importance to this day as it signals rebirth and renewal. As such, it is celebrated with various rituals, of which the top two are Spring Sacrifice (春祭 chūn jì) and the egg standing game (立蛋 lì dàn, more on that below).
Spring Sacrifice is an ancient tradition that originated during the Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BC) when the imperial family began offering various specially prepared foods (lamb, tea, wine, and fish, etc.) as a tribute to the Sun God. Such offerings were thought to soothe the god's temperament and usher in a successful harvest, which was largely dependent on suitable weather conditions. The tradition is still practiced in some parts of China today.
While Spring Sacrifice has largely fallen out of popularity, the spring-related egg standing game remains widely practiced. The premise is simple: If you're able to make an egg stand on its base on the day of Spring Equinox, you will enjoy good luck for the year ahead. Why exactly on this day though? It’s said that on Spring Equinox, the axis of the Earth is balanced against the orbital plane of the Earth’s rotation around the sun, which makes it possible to make an egg stand.
This game has actually spread to other areas outside of China. For example, the current holder of the Guinness World Record for the number of successful egg standings is an Australian called Ryan Spotts, who managed to stand 439 eggs upright in 12 hours.
According to traditional Chinese medicine wisdom, spring also happens to be peak season for liver disease (correspondingly, summer is bad for stomach diseases, autumn for lung disease, and winter for kidney disease). Therefore, we should try to eat foods that nourish the liver such as goji berries, walnuts, peanuts, red dates, and dried longan, as well as seasonal vegetables like leeks, bean sprouts, and lettuce.
You should also try to balance your yin and yang foods, for example, fish is believed to have a cold nature and corresponds to yin, so you should accompany it with warm foods that correspond to yang like ginger, leek, and garlic, to keep your body in balance.
Whether you believe in the principles of TCM or not, few would say no to a mouthful of spring rolls 春卷 (chūn juǎn), fittingly one of the most popular foods during this season. Why not try to make your own this spring with the traditional spring rolls recipe below.
Ingredients (makes approx. 15)
- 200g plain flour
- 100g cold filtered water
- Sweet bean sauce (甜面酱 tián miàn jiàng, available in most Chinese supermarkets)
- 5 eggs
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 cucumber
- Put the flour into a container and gradually the water, gently folding it in until evenly mixed
- Cover the mixture with a damp tea towel, and leave it for around 20 minutes to proof
- Knead the dough until it is smooth, but do not over-knead
- Divide the dough into 15 evenly-sized balls
- Use a rolling pin to roll out the balls into thin, flat casings for the spring rolls. Brush a small amount of oil onto each casing to keep them from sticking to one another
- Either steam the casings for 15 minutes or fry them using low heat until light brown
- Julienne the carrot and cucumber. Blanche the chopped carrots in hot water till they are tender
- Whisk the eggs in a bowl and then cook in a frying pan as you would an omelet. Remove the eggs from the pan and cut into lengths similar to the carrot and cucumber
- Brush the cooked pancakes with the sweet bean sauce, add the cucumber, carrot, and the egg, and wrap
Spring has officially arrived!
Recipe translated from Xiachufang.