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Warm memories linger over Lantern Festival food

China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-03 07:44
A dragon dance is performed for Lantern Festival in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, on Friday. DONG XUMING/FOR CHINA DAILY

SHENYANG - Families across China prepared glutinous rice balls to celebrate Lantern Festival, known as Yuanxiao in Chinese, the last day of the two-week Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations.

Lantern Festival fell on Friday, the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar, when a full moon appears. The traditional treat, made of glutinous rice flour with a variety of sweet fillings, resemble a miniature full moon.

While glutinous rice balls are eaten all over China to celebrate the festival, methods for making them vary, and they have different names.

Salespeople pack yuanxiao-traditional rice balls-at the Daoxiangcun snack store in Beijing on Thursday. WANG ZHUANGFEI/CHINA DAILY

Yuanxiao, which are named for the festival, come from northern China. They are made by soaking a dry filling in water and rolling it in glutinous rice flour. By repeating the movement of soaking and rolling, the balls gradually grow to a suitable size.

Preparation of the southern style - tangyuan - is different. Tangyuan are made by rolling rice flour dough into a ball and then stuffing it with a filling. The name sounds similar to tuanyuan, which means reunion - one reason the balls have been adopted for family meals as the Spring Festival celebration comes to an end.

While yuanxiao are usually only eaten at Lantern Festival, tangyuan are also served on winter solstice and on Jan 1 in southern China. Both styles can be purchased ready-made in supermarkets all year. In addition to boiling, they can be fried or steamed.

"All the yuanxiao were freshly rolled when I was young and there often was a long queue outside the store. Back then there were few snacks available, and yuanxiao was our most anticipated treat during Spring Festival," said Chen Meishi, from Shenyang, Liaoning province." I can still recall the childhood happiness of the first bite of yuanxiao.

"Now most of the yuanxiao are frozen. Eating yuanxiao is a family tradition for wishing for good luck."

Members of the Hakka ethnic group participate in a traditional Lantern Festival event in Liancheng, Fujian province, on Friday. ZHANG BIN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

Although the ingredients are the same, the difference in preparation of the two styles gives them a slightly different texture - yuanxiao are more chewy, while tangyuan are softer.

The traditional filling was a combination of black sesame, lard and sugar, but a variety of fillings, such as chocolate and fruit - or even chili, meat and vegetables - have come onto the market in recent years.

"I bought hawthorn-filled rice balls this year. They are appetizing and easy to digest, and therefore suitable for the elderly," said Li Mengnan of Shanghai.

Xinhua

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