"Qingtuan" rice cakes are being made in a bakery shop in Shanghai around Qingming Festival. (Photo/CGTN)
It is a tradition for people from southeast China to eat "qingtuan," green rice cakes during Qingming, a Chinese festival designated to honor the deceased. And every year around this time, you'll see lines of people queuing to buy the colorful qingtuan rice balls.
What Is 'Qingtuan'
"Qingtuan" literally means green balls. Looking almost like ice cream balls, they are a kind of sweet green rice cake. Its dough is mixed with Chinese mugwort juice, and gives off a fresh scent as the "qingtuan" are being made.
Different fillings can be found in southeast China, including red bean paste, chestnut paste, and dried meat floss. The tradition of making "qingtuan" stretches back thousands of years in China.
"Qingtuan" used to be the food people ate during the so-called "Cold Food Festival," which was usually one day before the Qingming Festival. However, the two were gradually merged into one, though a few areas still celebrate them separately.
"We used to have a festival called 'Cold Food Festival,' people usually ate 'qingtuan' on those days. They brought the cold green rice balls to the suburbs (with their families)," said Zhao Xiaoyu, deputy manager of Wangjiasha Bakery Shop.
In 2016, a Shanghai local food brand, Xinghualou, reintroduced the snack by filling the inside with meat floss, instead of the traditional sweet filling. The new variation became a hit that customers had to queue for hours to get their "quota."
And a box of Qingtuan was even sold nearly 50 US dollars, more than five times the usual price of eight US dollars. Though the craze has diminished slightly, you can still see block-long queues for the rice balls in the streets around China's Qingming Festival.