The Tiny Versatile Bowl I Use To Celebrate the Lantern Festival and Memory of My Grandfather

published Feb 3, 2023
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Emile Henry cream colored clay egg nest on graphic colored background
Credit: Emile Henry

Lunar New Year 2023 is nearing the end of its 15-day celebration on February 5. While the holiday is definitely a glorious — and delicious — time for eating, snacking, and generally being with family and friends, there’s one part that I don’t think gets nearly enough attention: the Lantern Festival. And for those who think they haven’t eaten all the sweets that the holiday has to offer, there’s still time to enjoy one last dessert: yuan xiao (元宵).

What Is the Lantern Festival During Lunar New Year?

The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of Lunar New Year celebrations and marks the last time you’d gather with family for one last meal before everyone goes back to real life and work. For some, the main event also involves going to a temple, praying to ancestors, and lighting lanterns. Traditionally, on the night of the Lantern Festival, you eat one last “lucky” dish, which is yuan xiao. The term essentially means “first night,” and the Lantern Festival marks the first night when the full moon appears, so families gather to watch the moon as they eat a delicious warm bowl (or two) of yuan xiao.

Yuan xiao is basically tiny mochi balls in a sweetened (or sometimes plain) soup. The mochi represent the moon, and because of the sticky nature of the yuan xiao (which is made from glutinous flour), the dessert symbolizes togetherness and unity for the upcoming year ahead. 

What’s Great About the Emile Henry Egg Nest?

Because it involves soup, you serve yuan xiao in a bowl and my favorite bowl is the Emile Henry Egg Nest. It’s a small ceramic bowl with a matching lid, and while it’s not made from a Chinese company but rather a French one, it has all the hallmarks of a good yuan xiao bowl. Most importantly, it also reminds me of the traditional Chinese tea cups my grandpa had around his house when he was still with us. He would have a cup of tea near his books or by the television and to keep his tea hot, he always used a small tea cup with a matching lid. The Egg Nest looks exactly the same, just slightly larger and without the Chinese artwork on it — nonetheless, it’s perfect for my yuan xiao.

The Emile Henry Egg Nest is shaped like its namesake and is made with ceramic so it cocoons the food inside as it bakes in the oven. This signature feature is also perfect for serving yuan xiao. While I haven’t tried baking my mochi (yuan xiao is simply boiled in water on the stove until it floats up like pasta), the ceramic keeps the yuan xiao warm as you chit-chat and gaze up at the moon during the Lantern Festival. 

What Else Can You Cook in the Egg Nest?

The Egg Nest is also a perfect size to hold in your hands, and can hold up to two eggs for some seriously great baked eggs with a runny center. For my yuan xiao, it can hold at least four mochi balls. The handles on the Egg Nest are easy to grip when taking the bowl in and out of the oven without fear of dropping it on the floor. The lid is a great feature, too — you can rest your spoon on it because it’s flat and holds a soup spoon well, but I’ve also seen others use it as a holder for dunking toast in boiled eggs.

But as much as I love the egg nest for, well, eggs, I absolutely treasure using it for my yuan xiao dessert during the Lantern Festival because it reminds me of my grandfather and his tea routine. And that’s the whole point of the festival anyway — being with family physically and spiritually.

Buy: Emile Henry Egg Nest, $50