Dumplings as a symbol of Chinese New Year

Dumplings as a symbol of Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is approaching – January 25, 2020. This is an excellent occasion to talk about different types of dumplings. About jiaozi, gyoza, pelmeni, ravioli, khinkali, manti, about Lithuanian-Belarusian kalduny. And all similar products from unleavened dough with filling, the ancestral home of which is China. Historians agree that originally “the great dumplings culture” came from there. It is even accepted that the inventor of this yummy was one specific person. Namely, the great physician and philanthropist Zhāng Zhōngjǐng (150 – 219 AD). He is sometimes called the “Chinese Hippocrates.” In his time, at the end of the reign of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), the climate was severe in the northern provinces. And the decline of the state exacerbated the suffering of the common people.

When the winter cold came, on the eve of the New Year, many people fell ill. If not with a coronovirus, then with pneumonia, bronchitis, and the like. But often it was just a general weakening of the body from hunger and cold. Zhāng Zhōngjǐng, who lived in the city of Nanyang, Henan province, decided to help all the poor. He prepared a mixture of minced lamb and various spices. After rolling out the dough into a thin layer and cutting it into pieces, he put minced balls on them, folded the dough into small triangles and pinched them. And then he threw them into a large cauldron of boiling water, which stood in a tent. All those freezing could come there – to warm themselves from the boiler and fire and to get a bowl of hot broth with “tender ears”. “jiao-er” in Chinese, to become “jiaozi” later.

Apart from the form of saving pieces of dough with filling, the name hinted at frostbitten ears. Now they were seen much less. But there were much more cheerful eyes. So simple! But to many those suffering from cold and hunger this simple dish meant Life. And since then, from the beginning of the 3rd century AD, the custom has been established. To celebrate the Chinese New Year with a joyful feast with “tender ears”. Remembering the kindness and wisdom of the great doctor.

This dish won an important place in Chinese cuisine and began to spread to all directions. To the east – to Korea and Japan, and to the north, the present-day Siberia. And to the West and South as well – quickly but inevitably. Through Siberia and the Urals, dumplings came to Russia. They have reached the Turkic peoples by the more southern route. From the Crimean Tatars they came to Lithuania and Belarus in the form of “kalduny”. The great traveller Marco Polo seemed to have taken the Chinese delicacy recipe to Italy. There they became known as famous ravioli. And eventually, “tender ears” have conquered the world.

In Belarus, at the crossroads of large trade routes, several cultures meet. All with their variants of “tender ears”. And “Kuhmistr”, the restaurant of Belarusian and Lithuanian cuisines, inevitably pays tribute to them. So, we serve Belarusian pork-filled dumplings, and Tartar lamb-filled dumplings, and Ukrainian-style vareniki (dumplings with sweet filling).

Small dumplings with mushroom filling, which are prepared for the Christmas borscht, are still called “ears” in our tradition. Well, let us once again remember the great doctor and humanist Zhāng Zhōngjǐng. And to congratulate each other as is customary in his homeland:

新年 快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè) Happy New Year!
恭喜 發財 (gōng xǐ fā cái) Happiness and prosperity!
迎春 接 福 (Yíngchúnjiēfú) – Happy New Year!
龙马 精神 (lóng mǎ jīng shén) The force of dragon and horse!