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Tangyuan (汤圆)

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Tāngyuán is a Chinese food made from glutinous rice flour. Glutinous rice flour is mixed with a small amount of water to form balls and is then cooked and served in boiling water. Tangyuan can be either small or large, and filled or unfilled. They are traditionally eaten during Yuanxiao, or the Lantern Festival.

Name


Historically, a number of different names were used to refer to tangyuan. During the Yongle era of the Ming Dynasty, the name was officially settled as yuanxiao (derived from the Yuanxiao Festival), which is used in northern China. This name literally means "first evening", being the first full moon after Chinese New Year, which is always a new moon.

In southern China, however, they are called tangyuan or tangtuan. Legend has it that during Yuan Shikai's rule from 1912 to 1916, they disliked the name yuanxiao because it sounded identical to "remove Yuan" (元宵), and so they changed the name to tangyuan instead. This new moniker literally means "round balls in soup". Tangtuan similarly means "round dumplings in soup". In the two major Chinese dialects of far southern China, Hakka and Cantonese, "tangyuan" is pronounced as tong rhen and tong jyun respectively. The term "tangtuan" (Hakka: tong ton, Cantonese: tong tyun) is not as commonly used in these dialects as tangyuan.

Ingredients


In both filled and unfilled tangyuan, the main ingredient is glutinous rice flour. For filled tangyuan, the filling can be either sweet or savoury. Northern variations mix sesame, peanuts, sweet bean paste and place them into bamboo baskets with rice flour, sprinkle wather continuously on the rice flour to form the fillings and form round balls. Southern variations are typically larger, and are made by wrapping the filling into sticky rice flour wrapping and crumpling them into balls.

Sweet fillings can be:

  • A piece of cut sugarcane rock candy
  • Sesame paste (ground black sesame seeds mixed with sugar and lard) - the most common filling
  • Red bean paste (Azuki bean paste)
  • Chopped peanuts and sugar

Serving


Tangyuan are cooked in boiling water. Filled tangyuan are served along with the water in which it is boiled (hence the "soup" in the name).

Unfilled tangyuan are served as part of a sweet dessert soup (known in Cantonese cuisine as tong sui, which literally means "sugar water"). Common types include:

  • Red bean soup
  • Black sesame soup
  • Ginger and rock sugar
  • Fermented glutinous rice (醪糟 or 酒釀), Sweet Osmanthus and rock sugar.

Cultural significance


For many Chinese families in mainland China as well as overseas, tangyuan is usually eaten together with family. The round shape of the balls and the bowls where they are served, come to symbolise the family togetherness.

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References

Tangyuan (food), en.wikipedia.org

Tang yuan (glutinous rice balls), breadetbutter.wordpress.com

Black Sesame Tang Yuan – Chinese Glutinous Rice Ball (黑芝麻湯圓), yireservation.com