Wednesday, December 21, 2016

(湯圓) Tang Yuan: Winter Solstice And Song


A good and longtime friend Mr. SPYeo sent me a video clip of Tang Yuan dessert, one that I had totally forgotten about. I remember as a child waiting for December months just to eat this sweet dish. We usually eat them after lunch but here's the story and song behind these white glutinous flour balls.

The Winter Solstice Festival around December 22nd or Dongzhi Festival is an important celebration by the Chinese and East Asians. It originates with the Yin and Yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos and is not a religious tradition.

Longer daylight hours after this period of celebration interprets an increase in positive energy flowing in. The philosophical significance of this ideal is symbolized by the I Ching Hexagram fu ().   This dessert is eaten at the end of the Chinese New Year festival too.
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These white rice balls (later colorful ones for children) symbolize re-union. I remember getting six of these balls in my little bowl because that year I was six years old. 

You get one for each year of your life. But it's a custom seldom enforced for an obvious reason😊.  Of course, I had a refill of another six later. Traditionally, there's one big ball and other smaller ones served in the bowl.

Man, it was a dessert I relished throughout my childhood but when my parents passed away and as I grew up, family and friends forgot this tradition. I don't celebrate this season with my family now. Culturally, we should.

There are many dessert shops in Singapore today that serve this dish. Anyone for a bowl of *Tang Yuan (湯圓)? Let me know. 

*Literally means Sugary Rounds.


The song that goes with Tang Yuan. Here it is taken from Jerry Yee's YouTube
site and sung so beautifully by young lady singer Zoe.

Rice balls for sale, rice balls for sale.
The server's rice balls are round and round.
One bowl of rice balls is full and full.
30 cents for a bowl.

Rice balls, rice balls, rice balls for sale.
Rice balls can be used as a meal as well.
Rice balls, rice balls, rice balls for sale.
Rice balls can be used as a meal as well.

Images: Google.
YouTube Video: Jerry Yee.

The birth of Tang Yuan was originated from a scholar named Zhang Zhongjing (image below) from the Han Dynasty.

One freezing winter, he saw some hungry, poverty-stricken civilians who couldn't fend for themselves. They were also suffering from frostbite; due to the extremely cold winter.

Zhang Zhongjing was a kind man, sympathized the civilians and ordered his apprentices to make dumplings with lamb meat and other ingredients to warm up these poor and prevent them from further harm. Food costs were reduced by using rice-flour later on but the hot bowl of food and liquid was important.

Click Comments below for interesting reads.


JAN C. said...

If it means eating balls of flour with pieces of sugar in them, it is not a religious practice. It is cultural and therefore allowed to be observed by all Christians. It marks the official beginning of Winter.

H.P said...

Sorry, I'm a Christian n don't practise this.

YEN CHOW said...

I don't think it is tied to religion.

JAMES KWOK said...

My Christian friends in China say that they don't do this as a religious practice but as a cultural event celebrating family bonding, with GOD as FATHER.

Cheers and Blessing in Jesus.

SAM said...

Mostly the old tradition die hard. The old saying is that 'dong' is the bigger than the new year. I don't practise it any more.

A.NG said...

I celebrate yearly till my in-laws passed away in 2014; then I stopped.

RC said...

To some this time of year, eating the tang yuan brings back fond memories of their past and as such they will continue to enjoy this as long as it takes.

IC said...

Me Too. Anyway I don't really enjoy eating it when I was young.

OGL said...

Have never observed it.

JC said...

Amazing that you are into all these! I'm not...Sorry. Cheers.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

I have not eaten tang yuan for a long time now. As a child yes, and enjoyed the dessert. It's not a religious practice as far as I know. But like Chinese New Year, it is widely observed as a cultural festival, especially in China.

Most times we need to be more balanced.

Thank you all for the response. Mighty interesting.

PC said...

I only eat but that's because I am in Hong Kong with relatives over there. In Singapore after death of my grandparents, Singapore practice stopped.

Anonymous said...

I love this festive because i look forward to a brand new year (end of winter and spring begins soon). Also the making of glutinous rice balls with my family, it is fun and makes me feel blessed. It wouldnt be fun if i were to buy readymade rice balls from supermarket. :)

CYLIN said...

Strange Andy that it was just yesterday that I was reminded of this annual festival which falls on 22 Dec - three days before Xmas. When young, I used to help my mother make them -right from rolling the dough to forming the 'yuan'. Didn't particularly like eating them - found them too sweet. In later years, we could buy the ready made dough from the market.

I prefer the 'ah boh leng' -a larger version of the tang yuan sold in some food centres. The fillings come in a range of red beans, peanuts, sesame... Sorry, I've not had them for some years and thus have forgotten the other fillings and the price of this dessert.

This is a cultural festival and will soon be lost if the young ones are not made aware - yes, lost to such western influence as 'halloween'.

LIM KUAN MIN said...

Wishing All A Happy Winter Solstice.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

谢谢Mr. Lim 让我可以重温旧梦 听听老歌 好享受啊 ! 真是多谢你了 。你有贡献 你真行 !

Andy 那些老歌也挺动听的 想不到他还请到帮手 蛮有意思的。再接再励。我们可有福了!

Translation : Thank you for the nostalgic memories through listening this song. Please continue so that we can enjoy the memories through these oldies.

matt said...

Personally, religion must take 2nd place to your ancestry. You can change religion in one lifetime, but you can never change your heritage , no matter how society reshapes you to their own selfish agenda.
As a kid in Singapore , I was all so tied up with religion, being cool, wanting to be accepted by my peer,etc.. so I don't "practise" certain things because they're ancient or no longer considered cool, or whatnot...
but eventually, I really, all that is just flash in the can, moulded by the society we live . however, even that, society, can change many times within our lifetime.
being tamil,chinese, malay, polish, irish, etc.. does not change! no matter where you travel, that marks your identity and that is what makes you stand out in soceity.

yes, i miss those colored balls, ... seeing kids running around with lanterns of fish and other designs, ... moon cake, eating noodles , choy, etc which symbolises longevity, wealth, etc.. like the irish miss Guiness when they travel to a land that knows not what stout is :)

SPYeo said...

You are absolutely right. It's more of a cultural tradition than a religious ceremony. Over the years the tradition has changed. It is only observed by the older generation. Today they will stuff the pain rice balls with sugar and grounded peanut or black sesame, perhaps to make the rice balls more appetizing to the young taste buds. "To survive ti must adapt or lose out."

Another two traditions to prove my points are the rice dumplings festival and the mooncake festival.

Today I believe businessmen "call the shots" not the educators or scholars.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you again for the comments.

Actually what attracted me as a child was this cute custom ie: you eat the number of Tang Yuan according to your age, and at 8 years old I was allowed 8 balls.

But here's the nice thing about my mum. "After that," she says, "you can eat as many, as long as you don't get sick..."

Happy Winter Solstice to all this 2017 year of the Rooster who will soon disappear because the dog is coming around the corner.

PETER LIM FB said...

Happy Winter Solstice 冬至愉快... Andy and friends in Singapore... Enjoy your 湯圆 😁😁

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

thanks to all for liking this post
John Cher
Jennie Law
Stephen Han
Peter Lim
Ronald Tan
Roop Singh
Van Der Beek Philip