Tangyuan are chewy, round rice balls made from glutinous rice flour. You can eat them plain, but fillings such as black sesame, red bean, or peanut paste make for a sweet surprise. Tangyuan is served in a simple bowl of hot water or sometimes, in a soup of sweet fermented rice, it’s sour taste balancing the sweetness of the rice balls. Sometimes the dessert is topped off with fragrant osmanthus flowers for even more flavor!
In China, Lunar New Year is a grand festival that lasts for fifteen days. The last day is called the Lantern Festival, or yuanxiao jie. On this day, Chinese families eat Tangyuan together to celebrate the coming of a prosperous new year.
The round shape of Tangyuan symbolizes unity and harmony. Doesn’t it also look like a full moon? The Lantern Festival is on the first full moon of the lunar calendar. The words Yuan xiao mean “first evening”, and it’s actually another moniker for this dessert.
You may be wondering…what’s the difference between Lunar New Year and, well, regular New Year? Lunar New Year is based on the lunar calendar, which starts on the first new moon of the year rather than on January 1st like the Gregorian calendar. In this phase, the moon is a barely-noticeable sliver. Since many Asian holidays follow the cycle of the moon, they likely start on different days for each calendar year. Confusing, but pretty cool, right?
Lunar New Year is not just celebrated in China. In Vietnam it’s called Tet and families share traditional food like Banh Chung, or sticky rice cake. Korean Seollal is often accompanied with ddeokguk, or rice cake soup. Many Asian cultures have their own holiday customs but they seem to have one thing in common: delicious food!