Updated: Mar 1
Although Christmas is known to most people in the world, it is not a holiday that is traditionally celebrated in most Asian countries. However, due to Western culture influences and its commercial appeal, Christmas has increasingly become a more commonly celebrated in many Asian households. Many families and couples will go out for dinner as restaurants will come up with a Christmas special. Aside from Christmas, many countries across Asia celebrate the Dongzhi Festival (冬至) or Winter Solstice Festival, which is usually takes place right before Christmas. We have compiled a list of some of the foods that different Asian countries would eat during this festive season:
Tangyuan (湯圓) is a Chinese dessert that is served in hot broth or syrup. Tangyuan’s texture tastes like mochi, as it is made of glutinous rice flour and water, it’s sometimes wrapped with black sesame, peanut, or more recently, matcha fillings. Tangyuan symbolizes family reunion since the pronunciation of “Tāngyuán sounds like “Tuán Yuán (團圓)” or “reunion.” In Taiwan, people not only eat tangyuan on this day, but they also use as an offering dish to worship the ancestors.
2. Hotpot (Mutton hotpot & ginger duck hotpot)
Winter is always the best time to have hotpot. Many Taiwanese would go to a hotpot restaurant not “to celebrate Christmas,” but just to eat out on the holiday as a formality. And since Dongzhi Festival marks the first day of winter, Taiwanese regard it as the best time to take tonic foods to fight cold and strengthen the body. You can often see mutton hotpot (羊肉爐) and ginger duck hotpot (薑母鴨) restaurants or street vendors filled with people.
3. Fried Chicken
If you’ve watched anime, you’ll notice how they always buy a bucket of fried chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken and a strawberry shortcake to celebrate Christmas. Yes, you read it right, instead of serving roasted chicken and turkey like how most countries celebrated, Christmas in Japan is all about getting a barrel of KFC. KFC has become one of few Christmas traditions in Japan within a few decades due to successful marketing.
4. Christmas Cake
Christmas cake is the highlight of many Japanese bakeries on Christmas. It is usually strawberry shortcake covered in whipped cream and topped with strawberries and Christmas decorations 🎂. When you walk on the streets of Japan, you can basically see someone standing by the shop selling Christmas cake every corner you turn. Read more to see how Christmas cake became so important in Japan.
Although dumplings can be seen and eaten throughout all year, it is also a festive food for Dongzhi Festival in northern China. It is said that the tradition is originated from Zhang Zhongjing in the Han Dynasty — On one cold winter day, Zhang saw the poor suffering chill burns on their ears. Feeling sympathetic, Zhang made dumpling soup and distribute them to the people to keep them warm. The dumplings that are shaped like ears are wrapped with chili, mutton, and warming herbs.
6. Rice Cake (年糕 Nián Gāo)
While people eat dumplings in northern China on Dongzhi Festival, people in southern China eat rice cake. On Dongzhi Festival, people in southern China (Hangzhou particularly) make rice cake dishes, both sweet and savory, throughout the day. Since “糕 (Gāo)” shares the same pronunciation as “高(Gāo)”, eating rice cake also symbolizes “步步高升 (bù bù gāo shēng),” meaning step by step you will get higher or wishing people advancement in the following year.