EGGS have always symbolized fertility, rebirth and new life in ancient religions and springtime celebrations. They were adopted into Christian traditions of Easter celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.
By some accounts, the egg represents Jesus’ tombstone that is rolled away and reveals new life.
Today, Easter eggs can be hard-cooked and decorated, or made of chocolate and candy.
Though only Chinese Christians celebrate Easter, eggs (dan 蛋) and egg dishes are common in China. Here are some unique in the country.
This egg is known as pidan (皮蛋), or century egg.
The story goes that around 600 years ago, a duck accidentally laid her eggs in a shallow pool of slaked lime (quicklime and water). A farmer later found the eggs, ate them and liked them.
These “century eggs” (shiji dan 世纪蛋) became popular and were widely produced, usually using duck eggs. They have a dark green to gray yolk and crystal-like, dark brown egg white.
The eggs are usually preserved by placing them in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls for several weeks to several months.
Then they are ready to eat as an appetizer, dipped into soy sauce. A Shanghainese recipe calls for mixing chopped eggs with chilled “tofu.” They can also be chopped into small pieces and sprinkled on congee.
Eggette (jidan zai 鸡蛋仔) is a popular street snack with a long history. It’s a mixture of eggs, sugar, flour and milk, poured into a special pan with small round depressions (like a cupcake tin) and cooked on a stove.
They can be flavored with strawberry, coconut and other flavors, but they are usually eaten plain.
Fried rice with scrambled eggs
Fried rice with scrambled eggs (dan chao fan 蛋炒饭) found in virtually every Chinese restaurant used to be called “rice of broken gold.” Famous Yangzhou fried rice used this recipe.
The recipe was developed by Yi Bingshou (1755-1818), a former magistrate in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province, hence, the name. The egg is scrambled separately, before mixing it with fried rice, known as “silver covered by gold.” Or they can be cooked together as “gold covering silver.”
It’s often cooked with ham, shrimp, vegetables and other ingredients.
When someone gives you hard-cooked red eggs (hong jidan 红鸡蛋), you should say congratulations. It means the family has just had a baby. On the baby’s first birthday, it’s common to see a bowl of brightly colored eggs.
Red is an auspicious color and eggs symbolize new life.
In some villages, eggs are part of wedding rituals. Before the wedding ceremony, the bride’s mother rubs red eggs on her cheeks to create rouge and a blushing appearance. As she does this, the mother sings something like, “Next year, I wish to eat the red eggs from you as a way of blessing and celebrating.”
Fertilized chicken egg
A popular street snack in some places, including Zhejiang Province, is fertilized chicken egg (mao jidan 毛鸡蛋). In these cases, the chick is dead in the shell due to wrong temperature, humidity or bacteria during the hatch process. Such egg is boiled in hot water and then dipped in salt and eaten.
Virgin boy eggs
In the eastern Chinese city of Dongyang, deep in Zhejiang Province, there’s a unique springtime snack favored by local residents — tongzi dan (童子蛋), or virgin boy egg.
It is a local tradition of soaking and cooking eggs in the urine of young boys, preferably below the age of 10. There is no good explanation for why it has to be boys’ urine, just that it has been so for centuries.
It’s a very popular street snack as vendors in Dongyang claim it has remarkable health properties, such as nourishing the yin (“cold”) energy and reducing the pathogenic heat.
It takes nearly an entire day to make these eggs, starting off by soaking and then boiling raw eggs in a pot of urine. After that, the shells of the hard-boiled eggs are cracked and they continue to simmer in urine for hours.
Many Dongyang residents, young and old, believe in the tradition passed on by their ancestors that the eggs decrease body heat, promote better blood circulation and just generally reinvigorate the body.
The popularity of the treat has even led the local government to list the “virgin boy eggs” as an intangible cultural heritage.