Eating glutinous rice balls during the Lantern Festival
Lunar New Year celebrations traditionally conclude with the Lantern Festival, which is on the 15th day of the first lunar month. With every household decorated with lanterns and streamers, the Lantern Festival can be seen as an extended New Year celebration.
Lighting lanterns during the Lantern Festival can be traced to the Western Han Dynasty in China. The 15th day of the first lunar month is the first full moon of the year, and has the significance of a new start. People light lanterns to pray for a bumper harvest in the coming year.
Photo courtesy of Ambassador Hotel Kaohsiung 照片：高雄國賓飯店提供
Since the Song Dynasty, the custom of eating glutinous rice balls during the Lantern Festival has taken shape and has been passed down to today. People often associate tangyuan (glutinous rice balls) with two festivals, the Winter Solstice and the Lantern Festival. Eating glutinous rice balls on these two festivals symbolizes the auspicious meaning of family reunion and success in all aspects of life. However, the glutinous rice balls (yuanxiao) eaten on the Lantern Festival are actually a bit different from those commonly seen on the market. The two are often confused, and many people cannot tell them apart. Indeed, many have never eaten real yuanxiao at all.
Yuanxiao or Tangyuan?
Both tangyuan and yuanxiao have glutinous rice as their main ingredient, differing mostly in the way in which they are made. Traditionally, in southern China, tangyuan and yuanxiao are regarded as the same thing, produced by kneading glutinous rice flour and water into a round shape. While the method used in northern China is different — glutinous rice flour is spread on a bamboo sifter, with the stuffing cut into small pieces placed onto the sifter and shaken so that they will be covered in the rice flour, producing the “yuanxiao.” Due to its geographical location and ethnic groups, Taiwan has inherited the southern method of stuffing and rubbing the glutinous rice balls, and these are the glutinous rice balls that we are now familiar with.
Photo: Liberty Times 照片：自由時報
The nature of the fillings differs according to local customs. In addition to the traditional small red and white glutinous rice balls without fillings, there are also bigger rice balls with sweet fillings, and “savory glutinous rice balls” wrapped with meat in Hakka culture. Most of the yuanxiao have sweet fillings such as sesame, bean paste and peanuts. In China’s Zhejiang Province, there are even rose-flavored glutinous rice balls.
(Translated by Lin Lee-kai, Taipei Times)
Photo: Chen En-hui, Liberty Times 照片：自由時報記者陳恩惠
Photo courtesy of New Taipei City Government 照片：新北市政府提供
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