According to my grandmother who hails from Taishan, China, Dong Zhi, or the Winter Solstice Festival, is one of the biggest holidays in China, similar to how westerners celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving. It’s not the same exact date every year, but always falls around the same time according to the Lunar solar calendar.
“Dong Zhi is bigger than the New Year” she says. Why? Because after Dong Zhi, the days are longer with more sunlight, and the flow of positive energy returns after the short, dark days of winter–Dong Zhi is also a time of year where the family gathers together and eats a very specific dish, Tong Yuan, glutinous rice balls, which symbolizes the idea of “reunion.” The characters for Tong Yuan in Chinese also sounds like the phrase Tuen Yuen 團圓, which means “reunion.”
This is a dish that is typically made in a large pot and then enjoyed by the whole family. Ingredients include glutinous rice flour, cabbage, pork (or chicken), dried shrimp, dried scallops, Chinese sausage, daikon radish and shiitake mushroom. The soup is prepared with the vegetables and meat, while the glutinous rice flour is made into a dough with cold water. Once the dough is ready, little balls are rolled out and boiled in to the soup. When the rice balls float and the daikon radish is transparent, it’s time to gather round and eat!
This dish can also be enhanced with oyster sauce and white pepper–it’s a warming dish that’s perfect for the cold winter weather! The glutinous rice dumplings are soft and pillowy, so it feels like eating smooth little clouds in a comforting soup. Each bite is soft and….almost bouncy. It’ll make you feel like…
Or something close to it.
My grandmother never measures her ingredients, but here is an approximation of her recipe 😊
- Glutinous rice flour (1/2 bag) + cold water
- Pork rib meat (or chicken thigh meat)
- Cabbage (1/2 head)
- Daikon (1/2 head)
- Dried Shrimp (1/4 cup)
- Dried Shiitake Mushroom (15 pieces) – rehydrated
- Dried baby scallops (1/2 cup)
- 2 Chinese sausages (cut into 1/2 pieces)
- Chicken bouillon powder (or salt) to taste
- 5 cups water
To create the tong yuan dough, add cold water a little by little and knead until the dough forms and is no longer sticky. Then, pull out a small amount of dough and roll into small balls, about 1/2 inch in size. They’ll grow to be about 1-1.5 inches round when boiled in the soup.
- First, boil a pot of water and blanch the meat for about 10 seconds. Then, rinse the chicken or pork meat under cold water and drain the blanch water. Start a new pot of water and start cooking the meat, shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp, dried scallops and cabbage in the boiling water. Skim and remove foam and debris from the top of the soup as it cooks. Add the daikon radish last before adding the glutinous rice dumplings and cook until transparent.
- As the soup is cooking, roll out the dumpling balls and place into the soup to cook. Once the balls become a little translucent and begin to float, it’s ready to eat!
Some other renditions of tong yuan can be sweet and filled with sweet sesame or peanut paste, or the tong yuan can be filled with ground meat and shrimp. This is up to the traditions of each family, but we usually have it savory in our house.
Now that my grandmother has shared her recipe, I look forward to making it and passing this part of my culture and tradition down through my own family in the future too 😊
May you enjoy a warm family reunion for the Winter Solstice!
Until next time,