Spring Festival is fast approaching and along with it all of the fun activities and delicious foods we enjoy at this time of the year. Today, we want to talk about two in particular. The first is a food that many of our foreign friends may be familiar with, the spring roll. The other is a beautiful traditional Chinese folk craft called paper cutting.
Spring rolls are a rolled appetizer or dim sum that can be fried or served fresh. The filling is usually meat such as pork, chicken or seafood, and vegetables such as cabbage, garlic, Chinese chives or cilantro. The wrapper is made from high wheat flour with water and some salt. They can be fresh, such as is common in Vietnam, but are usually fried. You may also know their popular cousin, the egg roll. The main difference is that egg rolls, which are also eaten during the spring festival, is that the wrapper is made out of eggs.
Spring rolls got their name because they originally started as a food only eaten during the spring, although they have been popular as a snack eaten year round since the early Qing dynasty. The dish also has significance for the spring festival, eaten to mark the beginning of spring. They were invented in the Jin dynasty (265 CE – 420 CE) and originally known as “spring plates”. This is because they were usually served as with many plates spread across a table, each with an ingredient to be used as a filling, and a plate with very thin rice-flower pancakes stacked on a plate in the middle. In this sense, they were almost like a make your own wrap or burrito set up!
This dish was traditionally eaten on the first day of spring, or lichun (立春) because the typical ingredients (especially what were known as the pungent, strong smelling vegetables such as onions, garlic and leaks) because they help with the qi of the “five viscera of traditional Chinese medicine”, the heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys. This was especially important at the beginning of the year.
As time went on and “spring plates” became more popular, it became a common expression to say “bite into spring” to mean welcoming the new year. With the development of food techniques, the spring plates became more and more sophisticated until they were eventually deep fried and became known as “spring rolls” like we know them today. The imperial court even began to enjoy spring rolls in the Qing dynasty.
Have you had spring rolls in China or other countries? What was in them? Will you be making spring rolls for the upcoming Chinese New Year? Let us know on our Facebook page!