Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)
Tang Yuan or glutinous rice balls (汤圆) literally means “round dumplings in sweet soup” (汤圆糖水). It is a Chinese snack often eaten during Winter solstice aka “dong zhi” (冬至), which usually falls on the 21st or 22nd of December; or “yuan xiao” (元宵) which is the 15th day of Chinese New Year; or any auspicious family celebrations.
The round and sticky dumpling balls symbolise family closeness and togetherness. They can be filled or unfilled. Even though our supermarkets sell frozen tang yuan in all sorts of fancy fillings these days, it is really worthwhile to make your own as it is fun and easy. This is a noob-friendly recipe which uses the pre-made fresh dough which is only sold at our local wet markets during the dong zhi and yuan xiao period.
Tang Yuan Making Tips
- The tang yuan dough should be smooth, easily kneadable yet not sticky to the fingers (too wet), nor crumbling (too dry). If the dough is too dry, add a few drops of water and knead the dough to the desired smoothness.
- Tang yuan will sink to the bottom of the pot when cooking and float to the surface when they are cooked, which is how you tell if they are ready.
- To prevent tang yuan from sticking to one another after cooking, cook the tang yuan separately from the sweet soup (糖水). Immediately after the tang yuan float to the surface, ladle them to a large bowl of water at room temperature to cool them down before transferring them back to the sweet soup. Thereafter, they will not stick to one another even if you leave them for a few hours in the pot of sweet soup.
- Another great reason to cook the tang yuan separately from the sweet soup: The soup will be clear from the food colouring added to the dough, and not gluey in consistency.
- Unfilled tang yuan can be as small as you like, but filled tang yuan should ideally be at least 3.5 cm (1.5 inches) in diameter, so that the fillings will not spill out after cooking.
- You can do multi-colour tang yuan by mixing different-coloured dough.