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Golden-brown pancakes, stuffed with delicious fillings—it’s the snack that keeps on rolling

Ah, Spring Festival. Another year over; a new one rolls in—literally, in the case of anyone choosing to welcome the lunar year with a spring roll (春卷).

Despite their name, spring rolls are not a snack associated specifically with the season (unlike, for example, jiaozi, dumplings, or tangyuan, glutinous sweet rice balls), but this is partly because these culinary traditions reflect the dominance that northern Chinese culture enjoys over what the world considers Chinese New Year fare.

Down in the south, in places like Fujian’s Fuzhou, the spring roll is both a popular year-round snack and a Spring Festival staple. About the length of a middle finger, it’s made with a golden-brown wrapper and fillings dimly glimpsed beneath the semi-transparent skin. The dainty appearance is typical of southern delicacies (the American-Chinese version tends to have thicker, crispier skin). A perfect roll tastes of the combined crispiness of the deep-fried wrapper and the tender textures of its filling.

Nonetheless, spring rolls, also called “spring pancakes” (春饼) or “spring plates” (春盘), are descended from a traditional northern snack during the Jin dynasty. Today, spring plates, generally consisting of seasonal vegetables in pancakes, are eaten on the first day of the solar term Lichun (立春, “spring begins”) to pray for a good harvest year ahead. In comparison, the spring roll has a more versatile role.

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Spring it on (Paywalled) is a story from our issue, “Home Bound.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.

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Tan Yunfei is the editorial director of The World of Chinese. She reports on Chinese language, food, traditions, and society. Having grown up in a rural community and mainly lived in the cities since college, she tries to explore and better understand China's evolving rural and urban life with all readers.

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