Baby Lion’s Head Meatballs with Braised Cabbage
They’re made of pork, but these meatballs are nicknamed “Lion’s Head” in Shanghainese cuisine, because they’re usually made in gigantic proportions. Larger than a baseball, that is. But I was going to a holiday party — and I had just been to a holiday party — where bite-sized morsels were precursory. So I shrank the homestyle comfort food to size. That doesn’t mean they’re any less delicious, though.
I was inspired by my friend Erik, who has for the past seven years been making Swedish meatballs as a holiday party snack from his heritage (can you guess from the name?). Well shoot, I thought. Everyone has some type of meatball in their family’s culture. Whether it’s a starch-bound meatloaf or a springy Vietnamese ball ‘o beef, a congealed mixture of minced meat with seasonings is an ideal application for food anywhere. So I was reminded of the Chinese Lion’s Head — which is essentially like a pork and chive dumpling without the skin.
This dish apparently skipped a generation in my family. I learned that it was something that my grandmother would always make for my mother when she came to visit her apartment growing up. If that sounds weird, it is; my grandparents were divorced, and my mom was mostly raised by my grandfather. Hence, my Chinese cooking repertoire stems from my Hunanese grandfather, by way of my mother (and her environment in Taiwan). My grandmother had lived in Shanghai for years, and Lion’s Head Meatballs is a signature of the city. But my mom never learned to make it from her, so I didn’t eat them growing up.