Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Celebrating the Winter Solstice Festival 冬至with a centuries-old tradition dessert

Today is the start of the winter solstice. In the Chinese culture, this is one of the most important day and is celebrated and known as the Winter Solstice Festival 冬至.


A search on Wiki states The beginning of this festival can be marked out back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. Following this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and so an increase in optimistic energy elegant.”

In China and Taiwan or pockets of Chinese in other parts of the world, the centuries of tradition continues where it is a time for a family get-together followed by the synonymous making and eating of "tang yuen" 汤圆. The round shape of the glutinous rice balls symbolises reunion. The 汤圆 is a soup dessert with balls made out of glutinous rice flour. Home made ones tend to be made with different colours of pink and white which symbolises family unity and prosperity.
Depending on where you are, In Malaysia, the soup tends to be made with rock sugar, pandan leaves and ginger. In China,  I have tried it made with rice wine or just plain bland water.

Being caught up with the Xmas celebrations and festive moods, I totally did not realise that it was today until a friend of mine told me in the morning.

When I was a child, my parents used to make this dessert which we will all eat. I was told that when you finish a bowl, it means that you are now a year older. Imagine my confusions as a child as I really love this dessert and thought that I could not have a second bowl as that will mean that I will have become two years older instead of one. Guess what, a reference was made to this on Wiki, The festive food is also a reminder that we are now a year older and should behave better in the coming year. Even today, many Chinese around the world, especially the elderly, still insist that one is "a year older" right after the Dongzhi celebration instead of waiting for the Chinese New Year.”

Having 汤圆 was how my love for all things glutinous-based stems from.

There were many a year where my mom decided not to make them or I am away from my family and I would be quite sad thinking that I won't be able to eat my beloved 汤圆. Everytime so far, I have been blessed with friends who will kindly deliver some to me. This year is not going to change as I was invited to a home cooked dinner from the parents of a good friend of mine finishing with 汤圆 of course.

How could I say no even if other plans was made? It took me but 10 minutes to say yes to the invitation.

So the dishes that you see here were lovingly made by the parents and happily consumed over merry a company and discussions.

Picture 019

Now I couldn't take the spotlight away from the main star which is the dessert. Unfortunately, the smaller ones were homemade while the bigger ones were store bought. The bigger ones broke during the cooking process which led to the sesame filling spilling out and clouding the soup. Nevertheless, it was delicious!

Glutinous rice balls are incredibly versatile. It can be eaten hot or cold, can be coloured, can be made into different sizes and you can have any filling that you fancy. I have made versions with brown sugar fillings, pineapple and even chocolate. Yes, melting chocolate filling greeting you in a hot soup. Those seem to have been well received and eaten with gusto by the lucky recipients.

For those who fancy making your own, there are many recipes available on the internet so I won't place any here. But I will share a tip that I learned that not everyone uses. One of the hardest bits of making these delicious balls is in getting the water to flour consistency right and it does take practice and experience.  My tip is a quick way to get this consistency. Replace the water with tofu. YES!! You heard right, tofu. The moisture from the tofu is the key.

Buy the silken tofu types that comes in a tube and mix that into the flour until you get a consistency that is soft enough but doesn't stick to your fingers. Dust your hands with some flour and you can now start rolling them into the ball shapes.

I tried this and what I find is that you get the slight scent of tofu and the consistency is silkier.

Happy winter solstice everyone!


  1. I tried making some of my own using glutinous rice flour and it turned out better than expected. Then I tried to insert some peanut butter i each (like the frozen ones that we got from the supermarket, well, almost) and everything just went south. lol.

  2. London Chow - Oh no!! practice practice pratice I guess...but it does take a long time to make these. Hopefully the next time it is a success!


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