Today my students told me that it is traditional to eat dumplings on the winter solstice. I never need an excuse to eat dumplings. I mean, you had me at dumplings. So that was good news. And I know a place I can get some....
On a cold winter's day, there is nothing like a piping hot bowl of spicy ma la tang (pronounced more like mah la tong) for lunch. Since we discovered ma la tang (tang means "soup"), we've been choosing this build-your-own soup for a simple meal when we're downtown. Slip into this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with us. The windows are covered with steam. Inside are just a few tables and chairs.
The first thing you do is grab a tray and some tongs and head for the display case. There's a big assortment of fresh vegetables with none of those pesky Western sneeze guard things in the way. Don't worry, it's all going to be boiled. Fill your tray with what you want, as much as you want -- big meaty pieces of mushroom, or the delicate little white enoki mushroom, green and yellow cabbage, dark green baby bok choy, black mu'er fungus, fresh cilantro, thinly sliced potato, bean sprouts and several kinds of lettuce. (Lettuce is often served cooked here, just like cabbage. In fact, you'll more often encounter cooked lettuce rather than raw lettuce.)
Then in the frozen section, there are lots of little dumplings -- yes, dumplings -- and sausages, and lots of mystery meat (?) balls, most of which resemble our imitation crab pollock sticks in flavor, no matter what shape or color they are. They are round and pillow-shaped and spiral and pink and green and purple. Some contain tofu or rice or sweet potato, too.
So here's to the winter solstice, warm bowls of soup and dumplings and all food-related traditions. We're looking forward to our Christmas activities here in China. More to come.