The Art of Making Tang Yuan

One thing I love about fall is all the comfort food, the stews, slow cooked soups and Chinese soups. When my grandma makes traditional Chinese food, I can easily have two to three helpings and wish I had room in my stomach for more. One of the traditional foods I grew up eating was tang yuan or tong yoon (Cantonese pronunciation). It’s simple to make and I was often at the side of my Poh Poh (Maternal Grandma) rolling the dough into balls.

This week, my daughter and her Poh Poh continued a family tradition and made tang yuan together for the first time.

tang yuan
My mom began by creating the dough and portioned the dough for Maliya to make the balls.

tang yuan
“It’s like marshmallow. It’s like play dough.” Maliya had fun rolling the dough into balls, squishing them flat and repeating, while my mom said, “We have to eat those you know.” I couldn’t help but laugh. I’m sure my grandma muttered the same words to me when I was her three year old assistant.

Our rice balls were a little sticky in consistency so my mom continued to add flour, which led Maliya to want flour. The art of making tang yuan with a three year old (and any meal really)? Keep them busy with their own task. After getting bored of rolling balls, the flour was so intriguing that Maliya needed her own baking sheet of flour. “Something’s in there Mom, SURPRISE!!!”

I added some small wooden dowels, small cups, a spoon, a fork and one chopstick to see how her play would evolve. She played silently and then she asked for what I dreaded, water! This exploration was in the dining room, and upon the request for water, I moved her into the kitchen to her play table.


Once she realized the sticky consistency, she wanted to wash hands. I said we could wash hands when she was all done playing, so she continued.
“Can I use the spoon for water also?”
” One cup is for water and one cup is for mixing.”
” It’s like slime!”

tang yuan2
My mom cooked our lunch while Maliya continued to play. Tang yuan made in pork broth soup with Chinese cabbage and daikon.

Maliya carefully dipped her rice balls in soy sauce and tried her creation. She ate two to three and decided she didn’t like it anymore, but asked for a second bowl of soup.

I had fun watching my little one create a meal passed down from her great, great grandma. Like all recipes passed down generations, there is no recipe! I’ve asked my grandma to write down recipes for me and she’ll narrate what she’s doing, but give no measurements. It’s all about touch, taste and the look! Thankfully, I have a three year old who enjoys touching and tasting, so these “recipes” will hopefully last another generation.

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