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.

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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.

Uncooked Tang Yuan

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.

Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)

Tang Yuan Recipe

This recipe uses pre-made fresh tang yuan dough sold at local wet markets in Singapore during dong zhi and yuan xiao period. To make tang yuan from scratch, check out this recipe.


  • 2 packets (roughly 200 grams each) tang yuan dough white and pink
  • 80 grams ginger bruised
  • water
  • 80 grams chunk of gula melaka (to taste) may substitute with rock sugar or brown sugar; however gula melaka will be more aromatic
  • 2 pandan (screw pine) leaves dried ends cut, tied in a knot
  • any tang yuan fillings of choice e.g. peanut, sesame or gula melaka morsels


  1. For unfilled tang yuan, simply shape the dough into even-sized balls.
  2. For filled balls, after shaping to a ball which is ideally at least 3.5 cm (1.5 inches) in diameter, flatten it in your palm using your thumb, put filling in center, cup the edges to the center and roll into a ball.
  3. Bring a pot of water (enough water to submerge the dumplings completely) to boil. Add the tang yuan into the boiling water and cook until they float to the surface. Transfer them immediately to a large bowl of room temperature water until cooled.
  4. To cook the sweet soup (糖水), add 1 litres of water, pandan leaves, gula melaka and ginger to a pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer until the sugar is fully melted.
  5. To serve, add tang yuen to a serving bowl and ladle the sweet soup over.