Sunday, December 21, 2008

white and pink glutinous rice balls



tang yuan is a dish of glutinous rice balls served in a sweet broth. in chinese culture, it is traditionally served on dong zhi (the shortest day or longest night of the year), the winter solstice. by eating tang yuan, you become one year older.

when we lived in the kampong, my mother would prepare the tang yuan one day before dong zhi, which usually falls between 21 and 23 december, just before christmas. this year, dong zhi is on sunday, 21 dec 2008.

dong zhi is the chinese equivalent of thanksgiving. it is an occasion for the family to get together to celebrate the good year they have had. in most chinese homes in singapore, it has lost much of its significance.

as children, we enjoyed helping to roll the paste between our palms to make the round rice balls. however, some were rejected because they were either too big or too small. then, we had to re-roll them. my mother, the 'quality control manager', insisted that they had to be uniform in size and shape.

when we were younger, we also enjoyed eating the tang yuan in a bowl of sweet broth. the sweet broth was made from adding brown sugar to the boiling water. as we grew older, the tang yang seemed to lose its flavour. it could be that we did not want to add one year to our life so quickly. however, my mother would insist that we ate at least one tang yuan.

these days, it so easy to prepare the tang yuan. you can buy the ready to roll paste from the supermarket. they also sell pandan leaves to give that sweet and aromatic flavour. no much else is needed except a few slices of old ginger and the brown sugar. when the glutinous balls float to the surface, they are ready for eating. i realise that the balls expand slightly when they are cooked.

tang yuan can be plain or filled with sesame, peanuts, red beans or almonds. ( at food centres, those sold, all year round, with fillings are called ah boling.) the round shape symbolizes wholeness and unity.

10 comments:

Philip said...

yg4, I think you missed out the mother of all tang yuan, that is the bigger pink tang yuan (twice the size or more of the normal ones) which was usually the first one to be made and placed in the centre of the tray to be followed by the normal size ones around it. My grand mother always gave me the privilege to make the big pink one.

Andy said...

Hi yg, I celebrated 'dong zhi' this year !, or perhaps i didnt get to know about this festive or notice the importance of this occasion during my previous years, till i saw the advertisement made by mediacorp channel u and further explanation by my sister. Therefore, my sister gathered my family members together for dinner and we had 'tang yuan'. This was the first time she is preparing 'tang yuan'(kosong) and it wasnt so bad after all. Ha ! However, I insisted her to put in additional ingredients such as green tea, peanut or red bean paste the next time she prepares it. Ha Ha !

yg said...

mr chew, i am not aware of this tradition where the first tang yuan rolled has to be pink and double the normal size. it was not the practice in my house.

yg said...

andy, i just learnt - while finding out more about tang yuan - that dong zhi is the 2nd most importnat festival in the chinese calendar after the lunar new year. yes, we should keep our culture alive.

Philip said...

yg, it was practised at my grandma. the centre bigger pink tuan yuan is the mother, the smaller ones are the children. Try to check it out with your older relatives.

peter said...

The last time I tried was in the early 1990s when I visited the home of my HK relatives. Yes it was celebrated just before Christmas. Although it was steamy hot with plenty of ginger, the 15 degree centigrade weather was just perfect. I knew I had eaten this before as a child but between the time when I was a child and as an adult in HK, it must have been a good 20 years or more.

Philip said...

Another tradition was to stick two tang yuans at one side of the door frame with elongated leaves.

Betty said...

A suggestion: Eat the tang yuan "dry" - Boil some water.When it boils, add the tang yuan. I use the "Chinatown" brand of ready made tang yuan with peanut or black sesame filling. After 10 minutes, scoop them up. Sprinkle with crushed peanut. Yummy

yg said...

betty, someone taught me that to prevent the tang yuan from sticking to one another after the water has boiled, you soak the rice balls in cold water for a while.

your 'dry' style is more like eating 'muah chee'.

Betty said...

yg, to prevent the tang yuan from sticking together after they are cooked, plunge them in cold water and scoop them up immediately.