Gourmet Garden

Hunting For The Flavors & Texture Of Yesteryears'

For those who have a sweet tooth… Tangyuán is a Chinese dessert made from glutinous rice flour. Glutinous rice flour is mixed with a small amount of water to form balls and is then cooked in boiling water and served with brown sugar sweet soup with a piece of ginger. Tangyuan can be either filled or unfilled with fillings. It is traditionally eaten during Yuanxiao (Chap Goh Meh), Lantern Festival (Tanglung Festival) & Dong Zhì (Winter Solstice). However, it has also come to be associated with the Winter Solstice and Chinese New Year. Today, the food is eaten all year round. Mass-produced tangyuan is commonly found in the frozen food section of supermarkets in Malaysia.

Tang Yuan is one of the festive food that is current widely used as daily dessrts
Tang Yuan is one of the festive food that is currently being widely used as a daily or specialty dessert being restaurants and specialty shops.
Tang Yuan can be taken with Sugary Syrup and Ginger as a dessrt
Tang Yuan can be taken with Sugary Syrup and Ginger as a dessert.
Tang Yuan can also be eaten as main course in soups that the recipe are usually handed down generation to generation
Tang Yuan can also be eaten as a main course, in a soup stock that the recipes are usually handed down generation to generation.

A little of bit of Tangyuán history.

Historically, a number of different names were used to refer to the tangyuan. During the Yongle era of the Ming Dynasty, the name was then officially called as yuanxiao, a name derived from the Yuanxiao festival, also known as the Lantern Festival. This name literally means “first evening”, being the first full moon or new moon after Chinese New Year. This name prevails in northern China.

In southern China, however, the prevailing names are tangyuan or tangtuan. Legend has it that during Yuan Shikai’s rule (1912-1916), Yuan disliked the name Yuanxiao because it sounded identical to “remove Yuan”, and so mandated that the name Tangyuan be used instead. This name literally means “round balls in soup”. Tangyuan similarly means “round dumplings in soup”.

The Meaning of Dong Zhì

Dong Zhì Dong means “winter” and Zhi means “arrival.” In olden Chinese society, the arrival of winter meant that the farmers would lay down their tools and celebrate the harvest by coming home to their families. A feast would be prepared to mark the occasion.

These days, Dong Zhì is still an important cultural festive day for Chinese all over the world. Even though it is not a formal holiday, most Chinese families who still hold dear to the old culture and traditions, would try to make an effort to get together and savor tang yuán as a complete family unit like a full circle, which the tang yuan represents.

Celebrated on the longest night of the year, Dong Zhi is the day when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest. The coming of winter is celebrated by families and is traditionally the time when farmers and fishermen gather food in preparation for the coming cold season. It is also a time for family reunions.

This celebration can be traced to the Chinese belief in yin and yang, which represent balance and harmony in life. It is believed that the yin qualities of darkness and cold are at their most powerful at this time, but it is also the turning point, giving way to the light and warmth of ‘yang’. For this reason, the Dong Zhi Festival is a time for optimism. Dong Zhi is celebrated in style. The longest night of the year is a time to put on brand new clothes, visit family with gifts and to laugh and drink deep into the long night.

In Chinese beliefs, it is also the day when everyone becomes one year older.

The Chinese Calendar

The traditional Chinese calendar is divided into 24 equal divisions each corresponding to 15 degrees of Celestial longitude.

The sun reaches 270 degrees sometime around December 21, the date set on most Western calendars as the winter solstice. Dong Zhì, however, can fall on December 21, 22, or 23. In 2008, C falls on December 21.

How to confirm the date will fall into the above date? We’ve heard the culculation from a local radio channel, FM988, and here how it goes:

This year is 2008 and divided by 4 = 502 (even). Whenever you get an even number from the result,  Dong Zhì must have to fall on Odd dates like 21 or 23 of Dec. When the results are odd numbers, then Dong Zhì will fall on Even date. Another way to confirm the date of Dong Zhì is to refer the the Chinese Thong Su. Which is the manual for all Chinese cultural beliefs. This book is updated yearly.

How to prepare Tang Yuán

You can buy frozen tang yuán in the supermarket, but it’s not that difficult to make. You may get the semi prepared glutinous dough from local wet markets nearing or a day before Dong Zhì, and just mold them into small balls or customise the sizes to your liking :P. If you prefer to make your original do-it-yourself tangyuans, it is easy, just simply mix glutinous rice flour with water to make a dough. Place it in the refrigerator for about half an hour, then take it out and mold small balls with your palm.

Cook the rice balls in boiling water until they float, and the next step is to put them into cool water for awhile and drained. This is the tips from my parents, is to prevent the balls from sticking and to also make it springy in texture. To serve, put the balls into hot/cool brown sugar syrup soup or savoury soup and bon appeti. There are various fillings, it can be either sweet or savoury.

Sweet fillings can be:

  • Sesame paste (ground black sesame seeds mixed with sugar and lard) – the most common filling;
  • Red bean paste
  • Chopped peanuts and sugar.

For savoury variety, it is usually of pork or chicken meat.

Tang Yuan Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes



  • 1 cup glutinous rice flour
  • 4 ounces water
  • Brown sugar to taste
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Fresh ginger (optional)


Pour the glutinous rice flour in a bowl and slowly add water until the mixture becomes the texture of dough. You may not need the entire 4 ounces of water to reach the proper consistency. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. You can divide the dough in half and add food coloring to one half.

Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll it into small balls.

Dividing the dough to equal size or just let the mood swing
Dividing the dough to equal size or just let the mood swing.
Family occassion
Family participation is best!
Preparing the dough for the filling
Preparing the dough for the filling.
Ready to be filled
Ready to be filled.
Placing the filling in
Placing the filling in.
Folding the dough to conceal the filling
Folding the dough to conceal the filling.
Almost done
Almost done.

Drop the balls into boiling water and cook them until they float – in about 5 to 10 minutes. Take out from the boiling water and put into cool or cold water for a while and drained. This process will immediately freeze the outer surface and prevent the tang yuan from sticking to each other and also to firm up the dough.

Sweet Syrup Tang Yuan is slightly Bigger
Sweet Syrup Tang Yuan is slightly Bigger


Prepare a sweet soup by boiling water and adding brown sugar, fresh ginger can also be added to the soup for some spice. Put the cooked rice balls into the soup and serve.

Have you ever tried Savory Tang Yuan? Many people are not aquinted with it, even there was once a ‘famous’ baking cum food blogger from Kuala Lumpur who rubbished it. But in fact it is part of our food culture that many does not know about. The Hakkas’ for instance have a practice of eating savoury tangyuans. Below are the steps and recipe:

Beging of the Yellow Bean & Anchovies Soup Base
Beg the Soya Beans & Anchovies to make the Soup Base.
Cabbage added to the Bean & Anchovies Soup
The add the Cabbage into the Beans & Anchovies Soup. 
Chicken Gizzard to Give the extra texture
Add chicken gizzards for the extra texture and taste.
Slice Pork for Tang Yuan
Pork belly slices for topping the piping hot bowl of Savoury Tang Yuan.
Tang Yuan In Bean and Anchovies Soup
Savoury Tang Yuan In Beans and Anchovies Soup with cabbage, chicken gizzards and pork bell slices.

We didn’t really measure the ingredients for the soup, and is all according to the taste. Here is the receipe, and have fun cooking!

Savory Tang Yuan Soup

Tang Yuan:

I don’t really know what and how to make the tang yuan dough, but all I know is its made from glutinous flour……heee

The only tips that I can share is, cook the tang yuan in boiling water and wait until they float on top of the water, and they are cooked. And throw them immediately into ice water for springier rice balls without the lumpy /mushy texture.

Soup base (basic soup base for wonton noodle soup):

  • Handfuls of Dried Soya Bean
  • Handfuls of Dried Anchovies
  • Chicken or Pig born
  • Water for soup

Other ingredient:

  • Cabbage (coarsely shredded)
  • Chicken gizzard (thick slices)
  • Pork belly 600gm or more (in whole piece)
  • Spring onion (4cm in length)
  • Home fried shallots

Step by Step:

  1. Put Soya Bean & Anchovies into soup bag/sachet. Don’t fill the bag until too full, when it cooks, the beans will be rehydrate/bloat. The ideal portion is 1/3 of the bag. Or put those 2 ingredients in 2 different bags.
  2. After filling the Soya Bean & Anchovies in the bag, put them all into boiling water and cover the lid, with medium to low heat, and cook about 30min or until you can smell the aroma.
  3. Take out the soup bag. Leave the soup aside.
  4. Boil water in another pot, to poach the whole piece of pork belly and chicken gizzard until it’s done or tender. Take out and drain. Cut them into thin slices when it’s cooled. Set both aside.
  5. Warm up the Anchovies soup and throw the cabbage in and cooked till tender. Add Salt to taste. Drain the Vege and set aside.
  6. Basically the cooking is all done.

Eating Step:

Just heat up the soup, scoop all the precooked ingredients, tong yuan, cabbage, gizzard, pork belly, spring onion, and pour the steaming hot soup into the bowl and top with some homemade fried shallot. Here is the salty tong yuan for you 🙂

Those precooked ingredients and soup can be kept in the refrigerator and you may heat up for the next day. Except tang yuan, its good when they are fresh.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

10 Responses to “Tang Yuan – A Meaningful Winter Tradition of Dong Zhì (a.k.a Winter Solstice)”

  1. Duckie says:

    happy new year to you and your family!!!


  2. fayefly says:

    wow cool ah !!! nice slaty tang yuan


  3. […] they serve chinese desserts. Here is the hot light ginger syrup Tang Yuan.  The Tang Yuan is quite springy and the filling is just nice, not too sweet, its really match the […]

  4. Canisque says:

    very beautiful site. thanks for the recipes! 🙂 I love tangyuan with sweet brown sugar syrup. 😀


    Jason Wong Reply:

    Thanks for the compliment. We intend to put in more recipes in the future. If you need anything converted to halal, just drop us a note and we will do it for you.


  5. Jennifer says:

    Could I get the recipe for the salty tang yuan recipe? Thanks!


  6. Grace Ng says:

    Looks delicious!!


  7. Eros says:

    You are absolutely right.


  8. […] Tang Yuan – A Meaningful Winter Tradition of Dong Zhì (a.k.a Winter Solstice) – 8,276 viewsColiseum Cafe Serving Old School Hainanese Dishes, Local and Western Cuisine – 8,054 viewsBlue Reef’s Beer Batter Fish n’ Chips – 7,920 viewsKuala Lumpur Food Trip – October 2008 – 6,158 viewsChinese Wax Sausages, Duck and Pork Belly Rice Recipe – 6,140 viewsRainforest Bakery, That is What I Call a Bakery. – 5,970 viewsMy Beloved Husky Puppies Gone For Greed and Irresponsible Buisness Ethics – 5,920 viewsHome-made Poon Choy – 5,486 viewsInvited Review-Haven Delights @ Penang Time Square – 5,014 views […]

  9. phentermine says:

    Τhankѕ foг sharing your thoughts about Gourmet.
    phentermine´s last blog post ..phentermine


Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge