Warm Weather, Cold Food: The History of the Spring Roll
It a makes sense that as the weather warms up, cold food makes its way back to the menu. In the warmer temperatures, no one wants to stand in a hot kitchen cooking hot meals for people who really just want to cool off. But like much of Chinese Food, there is a story behind cold food. Chiuho was reminded of this story on a recent trip back to Taiwan where she found herself craving Spring Rolls. Spring weather and tradition may have conspired to create the craving.
You see, Early April is the season for the Cold Food Festival. This traditional Chinese festival (also celebrated in Korea and Vietnam) pays tribute to the budding sprouts in the field as it honors a legend of loyalty. The festival commemorates Jie Zi Tui, who lived in the Jin State of China during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC until 470 BC, or thereabouts).
Jie was a loyal and beloved official of the State working for the Crown Prince Chong’er. It was a tumultuous time and the State fell into upheaval. The Prince and his men were exiled and faced numerous hardships – hunger being the biggest. To prevent the starvation of his Prince, Jie fed him with a piece of meat cut from his own thigh.
When the Prince was later able to return to the Jin State, he took his place at the throne and proceeded to live royally, as was his due. In his luxury, however, he completely forgot about Jie and broke his heart. Jie ran off to the mountains to live in sadness and seclusion with his mother. When the Prince eventually learned about Jie’s life in the hills, he tried to bring him back home, sending search parties near and far. Jie’s location in the mountains was discovered and the Prince tried to smoke him out. The fire went terrible wrong, however, killing both Jie and his mother. The Prince felt so terribly guilty he forbade cooking fires and ordered everyone to eat only cold food. Each spring thereafter, the Cold Food Festival (Hanshi Festival) honors the memory of Jie Zi Tui. The Cold Food Festival starts the night before Tomb Sweeping Day (Qingming Festival), a day of remembrance and respect.
And there you have it, the Spring Roll. This not-fried, cold roll incorporates raw and chilled pre-cooked foods (like eggs, shrimp or pork). The type of wrapper used varies regionally, but the roll is usually served with a pungent sauce.
Tradition runs deep in this cuisine. Many Chinese specialties find their origins in legend and ancient history. This spring when you bite into a delicious Spring Roll, know that you are in excellent company. You are part of a thousand-year-old legacy honoring loyalty…and really, really good food.