For those who have a sweet tooth... Tāngyuán (湯圓) 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 元宵), Lantern Festival (Tanglung Festival 中秋节) & Dōng Zhì (Winter Solstice 冬至). 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.
A little of bit of Tāngyuán 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" (袁消), and so mandated that the name Tangyuan be used instead. This name literally means "round balls in soup". Tangtuan similarly means "round dumplings in soup".

The Meaning of Dōng Zhì

The Chinese characters for Dōng Zhì are 冬至. The first character means “winter” and the second character 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, Dōng Zhì is still an important cultural holiday for Chinese all over the world. Even though it is not a formal holiday or sort, most Chinese families who still hold dear to the old culture and traditions, would try to make an effort to get together and savor tāng yuán as a complete family.

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 believes, 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. Dōng 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 radio FM988. here goes:

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

How to prepare Tāng Yuán

You can buy frozen tāng yuán in the supermarket, but it’s not that difficult to make. You may get the semi prepared glutinous dough from the local's wet market when come to Dōng Zhì, and just make it into small balls or customise the sizes to your liking :P. If you wish to DIY in every steps, 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 form it into small balls.

The balls are boiled in water until they float, and the next step is to put into cool water awhile and drained. This is the tips from my parents, is to drain the stickiness from the balls and it will become springy. To be serve, put 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.
  • Savoury filling is usually a pork meat.

    Tang Yuan Receipy

    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.

    Drop the balls into boiling water and cook them until they float - about 5 to 10 minutes. Take out from the boiling water and put into cool or cold water for awhile 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.

    Prepare a sweet soup by boiling water and adding brown sugar. Fresh ginger can also be added to the soup.

    Put the cooked balls into the soup and serve.

    The following photos are pf the process of making the salty or soup type Tang Yuan. If you like to have the recipe, you may contact us for it.


    1. cariso // December 21, 2008 at 2:35 PM  

      I like tang yuan that has fillings inside.:)

    2. Joudie's Mood Food // June 23, 2010 at 12:49 PM  

      Wow this is very helpful and gives a nice background to the dish. I love it. I am going to make this. Your pictures are very beautiful and very helpful. Thank you