Tangyuan (food)

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Pumpkin tangyuan (汤圆) with red bean baste and black sesame fillings.jpg
Tangyuan made from pumpkin, filled with black sesame (黑芝麻) paste
Alternative namesyuanxiao
Place of originChina
Region or stateEast Asia
Main ingredientsGlutinous rice flour
VariationsRegional variants differing in ingredients and method
Other informationTraditionally consumed during Yuanxiao (Lantern Festival)
Traditional Chinese湯圓 or 湯團
Simplified Chinese汤圆 or 汤团
Hanyu Pinyintāngyuán or tāngtuán
Hanyu Pinyinyuán xiāo
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese圓仔 or 米圓
Simplified Chinese圆仔 or 米圆
Hanyu Pinyinyuánzǐ or mǐyuán

Tangyuan (traditional Chinese: 湯圓; simplified Chinese: 汤圆; pinyin: tāngyuán; lit. 'soup ball') is a Chinese dessert consisting of balls of glutinous rice flour and water that are deep-fried or boiled and served in a hot broth or syrup. Tangyuan can be either small or large and filled or unfilled. They are traditionally eaten during the Lantern Festival,[1] but because the name of the dish is a homophone for union (traditional Chinese: 團圓; simplified Chinese: 团圆; pinyin: tuányuán) they are also served on wedding days, at family reunions, and during the Dōngzhì (winter solstice) festival.


The food has had several names. During the Yongle era of the Ming Dynasty, it was called yuanxiao (derived from the Yuanxiao Festival) in northern China. This name means "first evening", as the festival takes place in the first full moon after the Chinese New Year, which is always a new moon.[citation needed]

People in southern China called the food tangyuan or tangtuan. In the Hakka and Cantonese varieties of Chinese, tangyuan is pronounced as "tong rhen" or "tong jyun". The term tangtuan (Hakka: tong ton, Cantonese: tong tun) is not commonly used. [1] Legend has it that during Yuan Shikai's rule from 1912 to 1916, he disliked the name yuanxiao (Chinese: 元宵) because it sounded identical to "remove Yuan" (Chinese: 袁消); thus he gave orders to change the name to tangyuan.[2] This new moniker literally means "round balls in soup" or "round dumplings in soup". Nowadays however, "tangyuan" usually refers to the southern style, while "yuanxiao" refers to the northern style, differentiated by their method of preparation.[3][better source needed]

Geographical differences[edit]

This type of glutinous rice flour dumpling is eaten in both northern and southern China. Sweet fillings such as sugar, sesame, osmanthus flowers, sweet bean paste and sweetened tangerine peel are used. In northern China, "yuanxiao" is made by rolling small pieces of hardened filling in dry glutinous rice flour, adding water slowly, until it becomes a ball with a diameter of roughly 2 centimeters, whereas the southern "tangyuan", is made by wrapping soft filling in a glutinous rice "dough" similar to making a dumpling.[4][better source needed]

In the South, it is common to have tang yuan plain in a savory soup made with Chinese (daikon) radish and home made fish cake.[citation needed]

Cultural significance[edit]

For many Chinese families in mainland China as well as overseas, tangyuan is typically eaten together with family. The round shape of the balls and the bowls in which they are served symbolize family cohesion. [1]


Rainbow-like tangyuan, it can be filled with flavors such as fruit preserves
Traditional tangyuan with sweet sesame filling

While tangyuan was originally a food eaten during festivals, it has become a dessert consumed year-round rather than simply a festival food. For instance, tangyuan is traditionally a white color. Yet, in order to cater to consumers’ needs and changing tastes, dessert specialty shops create new flavors or colors of tangyuan by substituting the traditional filling with chocolate, mashed potato and pumpkin paste. Thus, tangyuan has already evolved into a dessert that is consumed by Chinese from time to time throughout the year and is no longer limited to festivals. In both filled and unfilled tangyuan, the main ingredient is glutinous rice flour. A filled tangyuan's filling can be either sweet or savory. Northern variations mix sesame, peanuts, sweet bean paste and place them into bamboo baskets with rice flour, sprinkle water continuously on the rice flour to form the fillings and form round balls. Southern variations are typically larger, and are made by wrapping the filling into sticky rice flour wrapping and scrunching them into balls.[1][5]

Sweet fillings can be:


Tangyuan are first cooked in boiling water. Once cooked, the savory tangyuan are served in a clear soup broth, while sweet tangyuan are served in a ginger-infused syrup. Nowadays, deep-fried tangyuan have gained popularity in the Southern part of China. Filled tangyuan are put into hot oil to make its surface crispy (this is for deep-fried tangyuan).

Unfilled tangyuan are served as part of a sweet dessert soup known in Cantonese cuisine as tong sui (literally:"sugar water"). Common types include:


The most renowned varieties come from Ningbo in Zhejiang Province. However, they are traditionally eaten throughout China.[citation needed]

Tangyuan has also come to be associated with the Winter Solstice and Chinese New Year in various regions. Today, the food is eaten all year round. Mass-produced tangyuan is commonly found in the frozen food section of Asian supermarkets in China and overseas.[citation needed]

Related dishes in Southeast Asia[edit]

Mont lone yay paw, served with shredded coconut, is a popular festive dish served in Myanmar during Thingyan.

In Indonesia, an adapted version, called Wedang Ronde (Wedang in Javanese means beverage, and Ronde means round ball), is a popular food eaten during cold temperatures. The round colored balls of glutinous rice can be filled with crushed peanuts and sugar, or left plain and is served in a sweetened, mild ginger broth often boiled in fragrant pandan leaves. Crushed, toasted peanuts, tapioca pearls, and slices of coconut can also be added.

In Myanmar (Burma), mont lone yay baw (မုန့်လုံးရေပေါ်) is a traditional festive dish, served during Thingyan, and filled with pieces of jaggery and served with coconut shavings.

In the Philippines, ginataang bilo-bilò is also served in coconut milk, and sometimes local produce such as plantains (sabà), tapioca, and/or sweet potatoes are also added in. The traditional chinese tangyuan though is usually called in Hokkien by Chinese Filipinos as "chiōng-uân-îⁿ" (Chinese: 狀元圓; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: chiōng-goân-îⁿ) or "siōng-guân-îⁿ" (Chinese: 上元圓; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: siōng-goân-îⁿ).

In Thailand, bua loi (บัวลอย) is a sweet glutinous rice flour balls in the coconut milk or ginger syrup.

In southern Vietnam, a similar dish called chè xôi nước, is served in a mild, sweet liquid flavored with grated ginger root. In northern Vietnam, bánh trôi (also called bánh trôi nước) and bánh chay are analogous, with the latter being served with coconut milk.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Gong, Wen (2007). Lifestyle in China. Journey into China. 五洲传播出版社. p. 13. ISBN 978-7-5085-1102-3.
  2. ^ "因"元宵"与"袁消"谐音袁世凯下令改叫"汤圆"". 半岛网-城市信报. 2010-02-22.
  3. ^ Yi. "元宵节小常识:元宵与汤圆的区别". Xinhua Net. Xinhua. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  4. ^ Yi. "元宵节小常识:元宵与汤圆的区别". Xinhua Net. Xinhua. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  5. ^ "The Custom of Eating Yuanxiao during the Lantern Festival". Visit Beijing. Retrieved 2021-11-17.