The last day of the lunar New Year celebration is marked by Yuan Xiao Jie (元宵节) or the Lantern Festival. Flashy red lanterns and firecrackers light the sky, while spectators try to spot the first full-moon of the year and welcome in the spring.
Yuan Xiao Jie is marked by many timeless traditions, the tastiest of which being yuanxiao (元宵), small sweet or savory dumplings from northern China. During Yuan Xiao Jie, family and friends come together to cook this special meal or buy the dumplings to share with loved ones.
Yuanxiao simply means rice ball, yet is steeped in the tradition and spirit of the Lantern Festival, symbolizing family, harmony, and happiness.
The staple of yuanxiao is glutinous rice flour. Yuanxiao are made by soaking a dry filling in water and dipping the filling into a flour mixture. The cook alternates between soaking and dipping the snacks until they reach a suitable size. After the filling is coated in flour, it is rolled between the palms until it resembles a moon—perfect for a festival celebrating the first full-moon of the year.
The stuffing possibilities are endless: bean paste, walnut meat, sesame paste, jujube paste, dried fruit, meat, vegetables, or even rose petals.
The last step is to boil or steam and enjoy!
Don’t miss out on the southern twin of yuanxiao. Tangyuan (汤圆) is another Lantern Festival staple made of the same ingredients; however, the preparation is slightly different. The southern style dumpling is made by rounding a flour mixture into a ball. Then a hole is poked into the ball and stuffed with a filling. Tangyuan can also be cooked in a light sweet broth. Tangyuan carries a similar pronunciation to “tuanyuan”, meaning “reunion,” and also symbolizes the unity of family and friends. So, what are you waiting for? Get cooking!