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Do You Know the Story about Dumplings?

A Brief History of Dumplings

Dumplings have a long history in Chinese eating culture. Dumplings or jiaozi (饺子) as they are called today were highly welcomed by everyone during all the times. In old times there was a saying: “The best and most delicious food are dumplings and the best feeling is to lie down”. And now during every New Year, dumplings have become an indispensable seasonal cuisine. There are different stories why people eat dumplings during new year:

Let’s talk about the legend of the Chinese New Year dumplings which has its origin in the Chinese myth of the creation of the world.

In the beginning there was nothing in the universe except a formless chaos named Huntun “混沌”, which coalesced into a cosmic egg for about 18000 years. Within it, the perfectly opposed principles of Yin and Yang became balanced and the god Pangu emerged from the egg. His task was to create the world. So he separated Yin from Yang with a swing of his giant axe, creating the Earth (murky Yin) and the Sky (clear Yang). To keep them separated, Pangu stood between them and pushed up the Sky for 18000 years. Each day the sky, the earth and Pangu itself grew 3 m.

After 18000 years had elapsed, Pangu was laid to rest. His breath became the wind; his voice the thunder; left eye the sun and right eye the moon; his body became the mountains and extremes of the world; his blood formed rivers; his muscles the fertile lands; his facial hair the stars and milky way; his fur the bushes and forests; his bones the valuable minerals; his bone marrows sacred diamonds; his sweat fell as rain; and the fleas on his fur carried by the wind became the fish and animals throughout the land.

The goddess Nüwa then used the mud of the water bed to form the shape of humans. However, the winters were very cold and since the humans were made out of mud, they easily lost their ears. So Nüwa made a hole in the ears and connected the ears with a thin line and put the other end of the line in the humans mouth.

In memory of Nüwa, at the beginning of winter, the people made dumplings in ear shape with the “line” as stuffing (The Chinese word for line “xian” means also stuffing) and eat it in one bite.

During spring festival there are several reasons why dumplings are an indispensable food. The dumplings are shaped like ancient Chinese gold or silver ingots. Eating dumplings in ingot’s shape should give a good fortune for the coming year. People associate different meanings with dumplings. People stuff dumpling with items to express good expectations of the New Year. For example, stuffing with gold jewels expressed “best wishes for next year”; sugar and honey meant “to more happy days in the future”; shelled peanuts meant “good health and longevity (peanuts are also called long-living nut)“; jujube and chestnut meant “fortune and blessings for a child for a couple.”

At Chinese New Year’s Eve the dumplings are prepared before 12 pm. The family is sitting together and starts eating at midnight into the new day of the first day of the new lunar year. Chinese cal that 更岁交子 (geng sui jiao zi), which means “change the new year in this time”. In other words, the old year is changed to the New Year at this time. 交子 (jiao zi) – “this time” – has the same pronunciations as the Chinese word for dumplings: 饺子. Eating dumplings ad midnight is welcoming the new year.

Etymology of the dumplings name

An other interesting aspect of dumplings is the etymologyof the name. Different names include: 牢丸 (lao wan), 扁食 (bian shi), 饺饵 (jiao er), 粉角 (fen jiao), 角儿 (jiao er), 角子 (jiao zi), 水点心 (shui dian xin), 水包 (shui bao), 饺子 (jiao zi), 水饺 (shui jiao), etc. The first trace of dumplings could be traced back more than 1300 years in Turfan, Xinjiang. Xinjiang is the lowest elevated province with the hottest climate in China. Here in the 1960s, drying in the silence of the desert, buried under the bustling ancient Silk Road doing business with many ancient western cities, a Tang dynasty tomb was discovered which contained more than 1300 years dumplings.

During the time period of the “three Kingdoms” (三国, 220-290 AD) Zhang Ji (张揖) wrote in his still famous book (广雅) about dumplings. The moon shape of the wanton that he described, is similar to the shape of today’s wanton. Later, during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (南北朝, Nánběicháo, 420 to 589 AD ), wanton became very popular in whole China.During the Tang Dynasty dumplings were called “tang zhong qian wan” (balls boiling in the soup). The form, filling and way of eating of those dumplings is similar to the nowadays known dumplings. That time the dumplings were already served on a plate. The etymology of the term jiaozi “饺子” as the dumplings are called today has his root in the Song dynasty “角儿 (jiao er)” , which means “small piece”. In Yuan dynasty dumplings had two names: “flat food (扁食, bian shi)” and “jiazi eaten on time (时罗角儿, shi lao jiao er)”. The later meaning refers to the habit to eat dumplings during the chinese new year. In the Ming dynasty during the time period of the king Wan Li the eating habit of dumplings were recorded in two documents, the government report “宛署杂记, wan shu za ji” and the book “酌中志, Zhuo Zhong Zhi” by Liu Ruo Yu. Both say: At the new years day bian shi (扁食) are eaten. Other names of dumplings were fen jiao (粉角, flower corner) during the end of Ming dynasty, bian shi (扁食), jiao er (饺儿), shui dian xin (水点心, water dessert), and zhu bo bo (煮饽饽, boiled pastry), during Qing dynasty. All in all during history, dumplings had different names in different times and places. However, no matter how dumplings were called they all had one thing in common. Dumplings were and are favorite food of the majority of Chinese people.

The living style has indeed improved today, which also changed the eating culture a lot. Abundant market supplies offer a wide variety of food with almost endless options roaring business in small restaurants. People say: “Who is nowadays eating dumplings!” But if you look in our Manxiang Restaurant, you will see that people love to eat dumplings. In fact, Chinese people will never forget dumplings, and whomever you ask knows about dumplings.

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