The Traditional Chinese Food: Tangyuan

2013-02-20

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Intro: The Lantern Festival is a traditional Chinese festival, and Tangyuan is the important food of that festival.

Tāngyuán is a Chinese food made from glutinous rice flour. Glutinous rice flour is mixed with a small amount of water to form balls and is then cooked and served in boiling water. Tangyuan can be either small or large, and filled or unfilled. They are traditionally eaten during Yuanxiao, or the Lantern Festival.

Origins

According to a legend, in the Han Dynasty, there was a maid of honor who was called Yuanxiao. She missed her parents a lot but she could not leave the palace, therefore, she wept all the time and even wanted to turn to suicide. A minister knew her story and promised to help her. What Yuanxiao needed to do was to make lots of Tangyuans, which was the best cuisine she could make, in order to worship the god on 15th day of the first month in the Chinese calendar. Finally, Yuanxiao did a great job and the emperor was so contented; therefore, Yuanxiao was permitted to meet her parents, Tangyuan was named as Yuanxiao and the 15th day of the first month in the Chinese calendar was considered to be Yuanxiao Festival.

According to the record of history, Tangyuan has been a popular snack in China since Sung Dynasty.

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Name

Historically, a number of different names were used to refer to tangyuan. During the Yongle era of the Ming Dynasty, the name was officially settled as yuanxiao (derived from the Yuanxiao Festival), which is used in northern China. This name literally means "first evening", being the first full moon after Chinese New Year, which is always a new moon.

In southern China, however, they are called tangyuan or tangtuan. Legend has it that during Yuan Shikai's rule from 1912 to 1916, he disliked the name yuanxiao (元宵) because it sounded identical to "remove Yuan" (袁消), and so he gave orders to change the name to tangyuan.This new moniker literally means "round balls in soup". Tangtuan similarly means "round dumplings in soup". In the two major Chinese dialects of far southern China, Hakka and Cantonese, "tangyuan" is pronounced as tong rhen and tong jyun respectively. The term "tangtuan" (Hakka: tong ton, Cantonese: tong tyun) is not as commonly used in these dialects as tangyuan.

Cultural significance

For many Chinese families in mainland China as well as overseas, tangyuan is usually eaten together with family. The round shape of the balls and the bowls where they are served, come to symbolize the family togetherness.

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