In the northern hemisphere and many western countries, the holiday season brings images of presents, family, and snow to mind. While mittens, a crackling fire, and mugs of hot cocoa symbolize warmth and coziness to many people, have you ever stopped to wonder: what brings that same nostalgia and comfort to Chinese people who don’t celebrate Christmas?
If you’re reading this article you’ve probably heard of “hot pot” (火锅 huǒ guō), a boiling pot of water or broth used for dipping all kinds of foods (if not, here’s a primer). Chinese comfort food doesn’t stop there, however. If you’ve never learned about dishes like 酸菜白肉 (pickled cabbage and pork), a 羊肉泡馍 (soaked bread and lamb soup), or 铁锅焖面 (braised iron wok noodles), you’re in a for a treat today!
Goodbye Christmas ham, hello pickled cabbage and pork!
While this dish from northeastern China may not look familiar, you could probably find all the ingredients you need for it at a classic German Christmas market. The thin slices of pork pair splendidly with the pickled cabbage (think: sauerkraut), as the sourness of the vegetable brings out the subtle flavors of the meat. The Chinese vermicelli noodles give the dish a little more substance, too. The sour flavors may catch you off guard, but like babies with lemons, you’ll be back for more!
dāng wǒ chī suān cài bái ròu shí , wǒ zǒng huì xiǎng qǐ jiā xiāng .
当 我 吃 酸 菜 白 肉 时，我 总 会 想 起 家 乡。
I always think of my hometown when I eat pickled cabbage and pork.
wǒ bù gǎn xiāng xìn nǐ jìng rán yī gè rén chī wán le suān cài bái ròu ！
我 不 敢 相 信 你 竟 然 一 个 人 吃 完 了 酸 菜 白 肉！
I can’t believe you finished the pickled cabbage and pork all by yourself!
Leave the mashed potatoes at home, try this bready broth!
The Terracotta Warriors aren’t Xi’an, Shaanxi province’s only clam to fame. In fact, Xi’an is famous throughout the country for its wide variety of mutton (lamb/sheep) dishes, as well as noodles and breads, and bread and lamb soup combines everything good into one. Traditionally, many soups in the west are served with bread (maybe a “crust” or “heel” of bread a few centuries ago), but “yáng ròu pào mó” skips the extra dipping step and actually cooks the bread in the broth! The bread soaks up the flavors and adds an interesting, soft texture that breaks up the richness of the lamb flavor.
zhè gè yáng ròu pào mó de wèi dào hěn hǎo , dàn wǒ gèng xǐ huan chī wǒ shū shu zuò de.
这 个 羊 肉 泡 馍 的 味 道 很 好， 但 我 更 喜 欢 吃 我 叔 叔 做 的。
This soaked bread and lamb soup is good, but I prefer my uncle’s.
kě yǐ gěi wǒ lái yì wǎn yáng ròu pào mó ma ？
可 以 给 我 来 一 碗 羊 肉 泡 馍 吗？
Can I have another bowl of soaked bread and lamb soup, please?
Another dish hailing from parts of China that get quite cold (Inner Mongolia or Shanxi Province; which is more “authentic” is up for debate!), braised iron wok noodles are salty, flavorful, and often served to cook before your very eyes. Designed as an all-in-one dish to be enjoyed by multiple people, the noodles, green beans, and meat are combined in an iron pot and braised together. You can customize the vegetables and meat to fit what you’re in the mood for, but once you pick up your chopsticks you won’t be able to put them down until there’s nothing left in the work!
tiě guō mèn miàn shì wǒ zuì xǐ huan hé péng you yì qǐ chī de cài yáo.
铁 锅 焖 面 是 我 最 喜 欢 和 朋 友 一 起 吃 的 菜 肴。
Braised iron wok noodles is my favorite dish to eat with friends.
tiě guō mèn miàn de wèi dào ràng wǒ liú kǒu shuǐ.
铁 锅 焖 面 的 味 道 让 我 流 口 水。
My mouth is watering from the smell of those braised iron wok noodles!
People in different countries may have different winter traditions, different ways of keeping warm, and different foods they turn to for comfort, but one thing is always true: food tastes better when you share it with others. We hope that you have someone (or many people) to share your table this holiday season!