Lantern Festival is one of the many traditional Spring Festival customs that has to do with eating.
The festival falls on the 15th night of the first lunar month - Feb 17 this year - and families around the country celebrate the day by making tangyuan; plain, sweet or salty.
Tangyuan, or yuanxiao, as they are called in the north, are walnut-shaped dumplings made from glutinous rice flour with many types of filling. The wide variety of flavors reflects the diversities of region to region, province to province and village to village.
Regardless of these multiple styles and flavors, yuanxiao is said to have made its debut during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD 317-420), becoming popular during the Tang and Song dynasties (seventh to 13th centuries).
Eastern Jin Dynasty：东晋王朝
In ancient times, this dessert was known as rutang yuanzi, or sweetened glutinous rice flour dumplings, but these dumplings were later named after the festival itself - yuanxiao.There are plain dumplings, the way my Hakka family makes them, and there are those stuffed with fillings that can be sweet or salty.
The sweet variety can be filled with red bean or jujube paste, ground sesame seeds, walnuts, rose petals and tangerine peel, while savory fillings might include minced meat, minced vegetables and mixed nuts with ham.
The method of making dumplings between the north and the south is quite different.The usual way followed in southern provinces is to mix the glutinous rice flour with water in advance to make a manageable dough and then shape it into balls to make plain dumplings. If you fancy filled dumplings, then make a hole in each ball and insert the filling inside, closing the hole and smoothing out the surface by rolling the ball between the palms of your hands.
In the north, the filling is pressed into a hardened core, dipped slightly in water and then rolled on a flat basket containing dry glutinous rice flour, allowing the flour to stick on the filling.
This process is repeated over and over by dipping it in water and rolling it in the rice flour like making a snowball, until the dumpling grows to the desired size.
Cooking up a storm
Here is a step-by-step explanation of how to make southern-style black sesame tangyuan.
2 cups of glutinous rice flour
200 ml water
1/2 cup black sesame seeds
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
Lightly toast the black sesame seeds over a medium fire until there is a tasty aroma. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.Grind the seeds with a food processor, then place them into a pot. Add sugar and butter, then melt the mix under a low temperature to form a thick paste. Let it cool in the fridge.
1.In a large bowl, mix the glutinous rice flour with water until it forms a smooth paste and no longer sticks to your hands.
2.Divide it equally into eight balls (the bigger they are, the easier they are to fill).
3.Flatten each ball in your palm and put 1 to 2 teaspoons full of black sesame paste in the middle of the flattened dough.
4.Fold the edges in to seal the dumpling. Gently roll it into a ball using both palms and set aside.
5.Heat a pan of boiling water. Drop the dumplings into the water. As soon as they float to the top, transfer them to a serving bowl with some of the boiling water.