Chinese New Year has almost past, and many people are already familiar with the many delicious foods typical of that time. (If you’re not, check out our blog post from last year that gives some history on Chinese New Year dishes!) Today, we want to talk about the festival that marks the end of the Spring Festival season and has its own interesting treat: Lantern Festival and its delicious glutinous rice dumplings!
The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the new year on the lunar calendar. This day is special because it is the first full moon of the year. In Chinese the name is Yuanxiao (元宵) because the first lunar month of the year is called Yuan and xiao is an archaic word for night.
During Lantern Festival, people hang lantern – some of which have riddles hanging from them – and most importantly, gather together with their families to eat glutinous rice dumplings, or tangyuan (汤圆). Tangyuan either have a savory filling, like pork or vegetables, or sweet filling, like black sesame or sugar. There are many, many different fillings including peanut, pumpkin, bean paste, chocolate, fruit preserves and more.
The outer dumpling is made from glutinous rice flour plus a little water but often they have other ingredients to add color such as sweet potato (purple), pumpkin (orange) or other ingredients to make almost any color you can imagine! They are then boiled to create a dumpling with a really great, chewy texture. Savory tangyuan are served in a clear broth while sweet ones are served in a syrup that is usually flavored with ginger.
Tangyuan were originally developed during the Song dynasty in a city that was at that time called Mingzhou (明州), today’s Ningbo. They were originally called Yuanxiao, the same name as the festival described above. However there is a legend that emperor Yuan Shikai did not like the name because it sounded a lot like “remove Yuan”! So he ordered that the name be changed to tangyuan, which means round balls in soup.
Today, tangyuan are eaten with family because the name sounds a lot like “union” or “gather people together” or tuanyuan (团圆). We usually eat the round balls in circular bowls to emphasize the idea of togetherness (the yuan of tangyuan means round). Because of their richness and popularity, tangyuan have actually become a pretty common food that you can find in many parts of China all year around!
Have you had a chance to try tangyuan before? What filling did you find? What color were they? Let us know on our Facebook page!