If you have been in Hong Kong long enough, you would have heard or read that Chinese Winter Solstice is a bigger celebration than Chinese New Year. The origins of this festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. Subsequent to this celebration, days have longer daylight hours which it is believed increases the positive energy flowing in. This year, it falls on the 22nd of December. I wondered how families celebrate the festival and what makes it special. So I decided, the best way to find out is to reconnect with 2 local friends living in Sai Wan and ask them.
Adrian Cheng, born and bred in Sai Wan, reminisced about how the neighborhood would be celebrating Chinese Winter Solstice with much more gutso than present day. Adrian explained Chinese Winter Solstice marks the end of harvest season. It’s Chinese Thanksgiving day where families would offer prayer in the day and have reunion dinner in the evening. In Sai Wan neighborhood, there was a tradition of eating poached "see-hum" (cockles) and throwing the shells to the ground to create a coin clinking sound. Since the coin clinking sound was considered auspicious, streets would be littered with shells that evening. That was in the 70's. Today, Adrian celebrates the festival with extended families over mahjong, hotpot with seafood, mahjong, "tong yuen" (glutinous rice dumplings in syrup) followed by more rounds of mahjong. Hmmm.... let's hope Hong Kong families keep up their endurance playing mahjong during Chinese Winter Solstice celebration. Hopefully in a few years, we will be enjoying an extra "the day after" public holiday.
Poached "see-hum". Bloody and fishy tasting snack loved by the Chiuchow community (pic credit: HungryHK/ IG: @danielhungryhk)
Married with kids, Helen Fong has her reunion dinner at her Mom's place each year. Helen's Mom who is also a Sai Wan native keeps up the tradition by cooking up a storm, offering food for prayers in the day and hosting reunion dinner for her extended family of 12 pax. Everyone makes effort to be present and help in any way they could. As Chinese Winter Solstice is the most significant Chinese celebration, luxurious dishes with expensive ingredients such as sea cucumber and dried scallop will be on the menu. Fresh seafood, chicken and pork dishes are not to be missed as well. Contrarily to my earlier belief that "tong yuen" is a must have for all winter solstice reunion dinners, Helen's family does not have that. They do not play mahjong let alone hold marathon mahjong sessions. Sigh!
There goes my hope for an extra "the day after" public holiday.
Tong yuen" (glutinous dumpling in ginger syrup) with black sesame filling "
(pic credit: HungryHK/ IG: @danielhungryhk)
3 of the popular seafood at all times; razor clams, jumbo prawns and flower crabs
The most recent figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations showed Hong Kong had the second largest per capita consumption of seafood in Asia at 60kg, three times the world average.
As Chinese Winter Solstice reunion dinner is considered an important occasion, families are willing to indulge in their reunion dinners during this time of the year and seafood seems to be highly popular. Residents in Sai Ying Pun are fortunate to have a wet market that carries a wide selection of fresh seafood from salmon, scallops, prawns to eels, snakes and turtles. To get your supply of reasonably priced fresh seafood, head towards 43-47 Centre Street, Sai Ying Pun.