Tang Yuan

Today is the official day to eat tang yuan.   In my mom’s family,during my grandparents’ time,  it was eaten only during the winter solstice (22 Dec).

In the 1950s, before Singapore had easily available convenience foods, my grandmother and great-grandmother had to make it from scratch.  They would soak glutinous rice overnight and the next day, grind it with an ancient heavy stone grinder to a fine paste.  This watery fine paste would be collected and strained through a muslin cloth and pressed till dry. That was how they made the dough then.

Today ready-made ones are available year round. You can get frozen ready-to-cook ones from supermarkets. They are also sold at food centres. These usually come bobbing in some kind of sweet soup called Ah Balling. The 1.5″ size balls are usually stuffed with either red bean paste, peanut butter or black sesame paste. I don’t like them in soup as it’s usually soggy and it makes me gag. The way my mom’s family does it is different. It’s like muah chee except that it’s boiled.


The dough is really easy to make it yourself. Just get some glutinous rice flour.  To that, add enough water to make a dough that is akin to play dough texture.  The ratio is about 1/2 water to flour.  The dough is then rolled into small 1/2″ balls.  Drop them into boiling water.  When they start to float, that means they are done.  Fish them out quickly onto a plate and serve with ground peanuts, roasted ground soy beans and orange color sugar.  This is the way my mom’s family eat tang yuan.  As a kid, my favorite dip was the orange sugar (duh!).


You can color them by adding coloring.  I try, as far as possible, to use natural coloring like cocoa powder and matcha powder.  My kids enjoy making interesting shapes out of them.  But do make sure they are no bigger than an inch.  Otherwise the inside will be uncooked and the outside will be soggy.

Every time we make tang yuan, my mom would tell me her family stories. “If you drop it, your face will have white round spots, like the tang yuan. To prevent that, you’d have to wash your face with the water that the tang yuan are boiled in”. “After eating tang yuan, you are deemed a year older”. “When you make tang yuan, you are forbidden to say anything negative. Or scold anyone. Only positive things are allowed for good luck”.  “If it rains on tang yuan day, it won’t rain during Chinese new year”.  Of course we believe them with a very extremely large pinch of salt.

But so far it HAS NOT rained yet today…

Update on weather situation: It rained in some parts of Singapore on the first day of Chinese New Year.  Weather report was that it was going to be a wet CNY. Hmm🤔