Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter Solstice 冬至

Glutinous Rice Balls (汤圆)

As early as 2,500 years ago, about the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), China had determined the point of Winter Solstice by observing movements of the sun with a sundial. It is the earliest of the 24 seasonal division points. The time will be each December 22 or 23 according to the Gregorian calendar.

The Northern hemisphere on this day experiences the shortest daytime and longest nighttime. After the Winter Solstice, days will become longer and longer. As ancient Chinese thought, the yang, or muscular, positive things will become stronger and stronger after this day, so it should be celebrated.

The Winter Solstice became a festival during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and thrived in the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279). The Han people regarded Winter Solstice as a "Winter Festival", so officials would organize celebrating activities. On this day, both officials and common people would have a rest. The army was stationed in, frontier fortresses closed and business and traveling stopped. Relatives and friends presented to each other delicious food. In the Tang and Song dynasties, the Winter Solstice was a day to offer scarifies to Heaven and ancestors. Emperors would go to suburbs to worship the Heaven; while common people offered sacrifices to their deceased parents or other relatives. The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) even had the record that "Winter Solstice is as formal as the Spring Festival," showing the great importance attached to this day.

In some parts of Northern China, people eat dumpling soup on this day; while residents of some other places eat dumplings, saying doing so will keep them from frost in the upcoming winter. But in parts of South China, the whole family will get together to have a meal made of red-bean and glutinous rice to drive away ghosts and other evil things. In other places, people also eat tangyuan, a kind of stuffed small dumpling ball made of glutinous rice flour. The Winter Solstice rice dumplings could be used as sacrifices to ancestors, or gifts for friends and relatives. The Taiwan people even keep the custom of offering nine-layer cakes to their ancestors. They make cakes in the shape of chicken, duck, tortoise, pig, cow or sheep with glutinous rice flour and steam them on different layers of a pot. These animals all signify auspiciousness in Chinese tradition. People of the same surname or family clan gather at their ancestral temples to worship their ancestors in age order. After the sacrificial ceremony, there is always a grand banquet.

I will made tang yuan (汤 圆) for the whole family in the traditionally way.


250gm Glutinous Rice Flour
6 - 7 tbsp Brown Sugar (add more if you like it to be sweeter)
5 - 7 slice of ginger
2 pieces of Pandan leaf
1 rice bowl of hot water
3 - 4 tbsp cooking oil
1 drop of red colouring


  1. Sift the glutinous rice flour in a bowl
  2. Add in the hot water gradually and mix with you hand to form a dough. Add more water if you find that the dough it too dry
  3. Divide dough into two portions
  4. Mix one portion with the red colouring
  5. Add in the oil to each portion of dough and continue to form into a smooth dough
  6. Divide the dough in small portion (1 cm thick/length)
  7. Put dough in your palm and roll in circular motion
  8. Complete all dough into small balls
  9. On a boiling pot, fill water to half level
  10. Add in pandan leaf (you can tie around the pandan leaf using the leaf itself)
  11. Add in ginger slice or pieces (depending on own preference)
  12. Put water to boil
  13. Add in brown sugar (Boil for half an hour in low gas)
  14. Put in the Glutinous Rice Ball to cook
  15. Is consider cook once you see the glutinous rice ball float to surface


Using hot water to have chewy effects. Those ready made dough that buy from market, usually melt apart after leaving aside for a few hours. But this home made dough after cook will still remains impact.

I prefers home made dough than those that you buy pre-packed with filling inside. The texture of the glutinous rice ball itself taste very difference. You can add filling (red bean paste, yam paste, peanut, ginko nut) of your choice to the home made glutinous rice ball too.

1 comment:

  1. ya ya i like homemade 汤圆. My ma ma made this morning too. yummy, mine got no ginger.