I hope you all have been well during this strange, vulnerable crisis. During our darkest hours, we turn to food as a source of comfort, order, and distraction. Unfortunately, Chinese holidays – structured get-togethers studded throughout the year – have barely sustained 2019 due to the global pandemic. After all, unification and intimacy are fundamental to a holiday– the kitchen of your grandparent’s apartment doesn’t expand farther than six feet. I hope my Holidays All Year Round blog encourages you to reconsider how we celebrate; I hope this post serves as virtual hug and reminder that regardless of where you are, who you are, if getting through the past three sentences was the most you’ve accomplished today, we can celebrate together. I’ve decided from this post on until the end of the US lockdown, each recipe will be dedicated to my Celebrate Together Movement. Suddenly faced with a lot extra time from online school and meager phsyical activity, I’ve poured and will pour my heart out onto this blog by posting recipes more frequently, whether the festival is near or not. Please share this movement with your surrounding community, whether for a source of Chinese history, food recipes, or just some laughs. I think it will really better some one’s day to feel connected in this online community.
During 2020, mainland Chinese missed the majority of Chinese New Year but luckily caught the tail end of the Qingming Festival. Coincidentally, the festival dedicates its activities and customs to late ancestors, where families sweep and worship the tombs of ancestors. Contrary to the haughtiness and looseness of CNY or Dragonboat Festival, the Qingming Festival humbles worshippers and enlightens them with what really matters: family. Now more than ever, we must appreciate the limited time we share with each other and eulogize those that we have lost, particularly to COVID-19.
But in the presence of food, nothing ever gets too serious. After worshipping the tombstones, families reunite atop one dinner table with a spread of “cold foods”. The historic “Qingming Fire Ban” restricted all house holds from using fuelwood, thus ancient Chinese prepared precooked foods to last them through the holiday. During the Han Dynasty’s Cold Food Festival, the fire ban lasted for one month, but cold food did not sit well in the stomach and so the Tang Dynasty shortened the event to three days. After Mongolians took over the reign of China during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 CE), the fire of the “Cold Food Festival” disintegrated. Nevertheless, “cold food” customs still linger around Qingming, a quintessential dish called soft wraps 润饼.
One of the few dishes left from the Cold Food Festival, soft wraps or “thin Wraps薄饼”, employ the meager ingredients of flour and water to create sticky, thin dough. However, the mixture process requires skill, so most purchase the wraps from specialized wrap-making shops. The quick, circulating movements of the hand entice crowds, serving as a form of entertainment itself. Once shaped into the size of a soccer ball, the chef holds the dough in one hand and plunges it onto a piping hot flat griddle. The ball immediately hovers back into the air and descends back down, stretching the cooking surface as a thin layer of dough. This entire process should take place in a few seconds: the first second, the paper-thin dough descends to stick onto the surface of the griddle, and after another three seconds of crisping, the wrap ascends to the mouth, ready to eat. In wrap-making shops, two to three chefs work around several griddles like an assembly line, where each is assigned a specific job either to swoosh the dough, lift the wrap off the griddle, or collect and pack the wraps into bags.
The Soft Wraps contain two textures: the tight wrap and the flaccid filling. People in Chaoshan 潮汕 embellish sweet soft wraps in crystals made of cane sugar and maltose. Their savory wraps consist of eggs, meat, sausage, mushroom; the vegetarian wraps tuck sprouts and chive. The Quanzhou 泉州 region enhances their wraps with julienned carrots, oysters, meat, and parsley. Ultimately, Xiamen’s 廈门 soft wrap fillings tops them all: chefs pre-cook the filling ingredients and cool them in individual bowls. The bowls multiply to spread a whole banquet table, thus crowned with the honor of “Banquet in a Wrap 春饼宴”. Fillings of peas, bean sprouts, bean curd, fish balls, fish slices, shrimps, diced pork, clams, radish, scrambled eggs, peanut powder, seaweed, bamboo shoots, dried fish, minced garlic, mustard, chili sauce, and parsley– it is not a coincidence this custom lasted.
Alas, here is the recipe that serves 4:
Ingredients for the Wraps:
- 400 grams cake flour
- 4 tsp salt
- 8 tsp olive oil
- 240 ml boiling water
Ingredients for the Filling:
- 2 TBS cooking oil (to sauté the chicken)
- 2 TBS cooking oil (to sauté the vegetables)
- 1 cup (c.) of dried wood ear mushroom
- 1 c of thinly sliced combined red, orange, and yellow peppers
- 1 c of baby bella mushroom
- 1 c of shitake mushroom
- 1 c of edible daylily
- 1 c of thinly sliced Bok choy
- 1 c of thinly sliced firm tofu
- ½ c of diced preserved radish
- Salt and pepper to taste
Ingredients for the marinated chicken:
- 2 c of sliced chicken breast
- 1 TBS cooking wine
- 2 TBS corn starch
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 egg beaten
- 2 scallions
Directions for the Wraps:
- First, we will tackle the soft wraps. Combine the cake flour, salt, oil, and water in a big bowl. Knead the dough for 5 minutes then set aside to let it rest for 20 minutes.
- Knead the dough, roll it into a log, cut into 8 equal portions, and roll each into a thin circle.
- Place the wrap onto a pre-heated saucer pan on medium flame, rotate the wrap while cooking until one side starts to form pair bubbles, flip to cook the other side. When both sides have golden to dark brown spots, the soft wrap is done. It should take around a minute on each side for medium heat.
- Set all 8 cooked wraps aside ready to serve.
Directions for the Filling:
- Combine chicken, cooking wine, salt & pepper, egg, corn starch, and scallion, set aside to marinate for 20 minutes.
- Sauté the marinated chicken in 2 TBS oil. Set aside.
- In the same wok, add 2 TBS cooking oil, and sauté the vegetables by adding one item at a time in the order given in the ingredient list until all are cooked about 8 minutes in total.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- While the flame is still on medium, add back the cooked chicken. Cook and mix well for 1 minute.