Experiences - Asia

CNY Food – Lion’s Head Meatballs

Lion’s Head Meatballs is a classic Chinese dish which is served as a part of the Chinese New Year celebration meals. This dish was said to be an imperial dish that the emperor ate in the days of old.

CNY Food - Lions Head Meatballs

Image Courtesy: aJ Gazmen used under the Creative Commons Licence

The name of this dish comes from the shape of the meatballs, which resemble the heads of lions. The cabbage leaves used in the dish are arranged to resemble a lion’s mane.

The meatballs are often deep fried and then braised for at least an hour to ensure that they are tender. They soak up all the flavours in the sauce and they are usually served with veggies to balance the whole dish.

Lions Head Meatballs

Image Courtesy: Gary Stevens used under the Creative Commons Licence

Traditionally, this Shanghai casserole dish featuring oversized pork meatballs is made with pork fat and cooked in a sand clay pot. There are two varieties: the white (or plain), and the red (cooked with soy sauce). The plain variety is usually stewed or steamed with cabbage. The red variety can be stewed with cabbage or cooked with bamboo shoots and tofu derivatives. The minced meat in the meatball tends to be made from fatty pork, often with some chopped water chestnut for textural variation. They are normally prepared a day in advance and just reheated before cooking with any vegetable.

In Northern China, especially in Beijing, the dish is known as ‘Sixi Wanzi’ or ‘Four Happy Balls’, because the meatballs are usually served in a set of four. This dish conveys the grandeur of formal Chinese dinners. The balance of flavours are sublime, and the presentation is striking with ruffled Napa cabbage arranged around large pork meatballs to create the appearance of a lion like Tibetan dog.

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