Friday, 14 February 2014

Chinese New Year: Dumplings and Lanterns

After the zodiac workshop at the British Museum, Tiger and I went around Room 33 to have a more detailed look at the artefacts and decided to each draw an item that caught our eyes.

Tiger also learned to make a simple Chinese lantern there, which was really timely for the Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节), which is also called the Chinese New Year Lantern Festival and falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month.  This year it falls on Friday, February 14th.  It marks the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration.

Since we are celebrating the 15 days of Chinese New Year, we decided to find out more about this festival.

We learned about the origins of the festival from different clips:

and also about the significance of the lanterns to the Chinese, and to the festival in particular:

We also learned about the riddles that accompany the lanterns:

And how the festival is celebrated slightly differently in different parts of the Chinese region.  For example, the celebration in Beijing would consist of visiting the temple markets, fireworks, and admiring the displays of lanterns:

Whereas in Taiwan, the same festival is marked by the release of Sky Lanterns to the night as a sign of prayers to the heavens:

Armed with all the information that we have learned, Tiger and I decided to make a few lanterns to hang at home to mark the occasion.  We followed the instructions from the clip below to make the basic shape of the lantern

before making a few improvisions of our own:
  1. we added strips of gold cards and gold holographic cards to the top and bottom rims of our lanterns to make them look more like the traditional ones that we have seen;
  2. I stuck strips of yellow yarn to the bottom rim of the lanterns to make them look like tassels that usually line the traditional Chinese lanterns;
  3. I printed out the riddles from Marie's post and cut them into strips using an craft scissors that has interesting patterns; and
  4. I threaded and sewed the riddle strips to the lantern handles with red thread so that each riddle hangs in the middle of the lantern.

Tiger enjoyed looking at the riddles and trying to solve them.  I told him that they are meant to be pondered over for the night, rather than being solved immediately.  He has been slightly tormented by a few of the riddles since they were hung up.

The other significant aspect of the Yuanxiao Festival is the eating of dumplings, called yuanxiao (元宵) in Northern China, and tangyuan (汤圆) in the South.  From what I understand, the Northern version is usually savoury with its filling being marinated minced meat, while the Southern version is sweet with fillings such as red bean paste, sesame paste or peanut paste.

Tiger made some tangyuan following the instructions found in video above.

While Tiger's tangyuans were cooking, I added the packet of commercial tangyuan that we bought from the oriental supermarket on Tuesday to let him make some comparison.  The tangyuans were served in a bowl of hot, sweet soup made from boiling together 100g honey, 500ml water, and six slices of ginger.

I decided to also make the Northen yuanxiao for Tiger to compare them to the sweet tangyuan above.

Yuanxiao (Northern savory dumplings)

  • 50g sago, soaked for 6 hours in cold water
  • 225g glutinous rice flour
  • cold water

  • 225g minced lamb
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablesppon organic ginger wine
  • 1 spring onion, finely chopped

  1. Drain the sago in a sieve for 30 minutes and mix with the glutinous rice flour.  Ad the cold water slowly and knead until the dough is smooth.
  2. Mix together all the ingredients for the filling.  Set aside for 35 minutes.
  3. Roll the dough into a long sausage shape, about 2.5cm in diameter, and cut into 1cm pieces.  Flatten each piece of dough and place about half a teaspoon filling in the cnetre.  Carefully draw the edges of dough over the filling, seal and shape into a small ball by rolling between the palms of your hands.  The dumplings may be made in advance and refrigerated.
  4. For four servings: bring about 1L water to a rolling boil, add 1 teaspoon sea salt and any leftover fillings to make a savoury soup.  Drop in the dumplings, one by one, and stir very gently to prevent them from sticking together.  Cook vigoursly until they all float to the surface, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 more minutes.  Scoop them into individual bowls and cover with some of the soup.  Serve hot.

Our verdict:
  1. We prefer the savory yuanxiao, which tasted like normal dumpling soup.  Its dough is thin and has a nice slightly-chewy texture.
  2. The tangyuan was dough was overly chewy and thick, which spoilt the taste for us.  However, we liked the sweet ginger soup very much.
  3. We think the harder texture of the tangyuan is caused by adding the normal rice flour to the glutinous rice flour.  Next year, we shall improve our tangyuan by using only glutinous rice flour, as we have done when making the yuanxiao.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Chinese Activities Link Up
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop (2/11/14)
  3. History and Geography Meme: Fun Ways to Use Maps with Your Kids
  4. Educational and Entertaining - Chinese Activities for Kids
  5. Collage Friday - All About Love {and Ice}
  6. Weekly Wrap-up: The One with More Snow
  7. The Homeschool Mother's Journal (February 15, 2014)
  8. Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #13


  1. The lanterns look great! Love the idea of using yellow yarn as tassel. Aren't the riddles fun? It's neat to see who is stumped with what riddle.

    1. Thanks, Marie. I got many of the ideas from your posts, and thanks for putting the riddles together. That saved me a lot of work! :-)

  2. Sorry but I did laugh at Tiger being "slightly tormented" at having to ponder the riddles over time. I know exactly how that feels! :-)

    1. No need to be sorry about that, Lucinda. I thought the sight of him being tormented over the riddles was quite funny too. :-)

  3. I love all your colourful lanterns all lined up. So pretty!

    1. Thanks, Claire. We enjoyed putting them up. They sure added colour to the house!

  4. Riddles drive me nuts too, so I quite understand the torment.

    1. LOL! It's funny how different people react to riddles. My husband hates riddles too. :-)


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