Meet the Dango family! These cutie pies are my inspiration for the glutinous rice balls (Tang yuan) meant for the winter solstice festival (Dong zhi) on 21st December 2016 next week 🙂
Besides Christmas, Chinese community worldwide celebrate the 1st day of winter every year by eating glutinous rice balls or tang yuan. It is interesting to note that many communities do have celebrations around this time as well. Check out this list of 7 winter solstice celebrations by Encyclopedia Britannica if you are interested.
While doing research for the tang yuan theme, I came across this cute Dango family from Japan. The Japanese have a similar version of rice balls but it is mainly made of rice flour. On the other hand, glutinous rice balls as evidenced by its name is made of glutinous rice flour only.
There has been some recent trends in making cute tang yuan shaped like cartoon characters. Whilst I have neither the skills nor time to prepare the fancy versions, I thought the Dango family is the perfect solution to this. The family theme of Dango also goes very well with the meaning behind eating tang yuan which is to foster closer ties between family members.
My kids love to see the baby Dango (my girl), kid Dango (my boy) as well as Mummy Dango, Daddy Dango, Grandpa and Grandma Dango and the rest of the clans.
And did I mention that these are amazingly easy to make? If you can shape a dough, then you can easily do this! It’s really that easy.
The traditional glutinous rice balls are plain and served with syrups. I remember when I was younger that we enjoyed making the tang yuan together (it’s like playing with play dough) but I don’t really enjoy eating it since it’s rather plain.
Nowadays, it is common to find these rice dumplings wrapped around fillings such as black sesame, red beans and peanuts etc. I personally find wrapping the dumplings with fillings to be a rather messy affair. It gets worse if the dumplings were to break when you boil them and end up with a messy soup.
So, I have decided to keep my glutinous rice balls plain and serve them with peanut butter dip instead. It is delicious (you can’t go wrong with the sweet and salty combo) and I managed to get my kids to eat them, yay! Tradition dictates that kids must eat tang yuan during dong zhi so that there can grow one year older, haha.
Tips to dye Glutinous Rice Balls
There are two options to colour the Dango balls. You can use natural dye or food colourings. I prefer food dye because the portions are very small and very small quantity of colours required. If you don’t have that many types of food dye, the following colour mix formula should be useful:
- Yellow + blue = green
- Blue + red = purple
- Red + yellow = orange
I am also using an edible decorating pen to draw the eyes. It is available in specialist cake shop supplies. If you don’t have them, you can colour some dough with black edible dye or charcoal powder to form the eyes.
To prevent the various colours from mixing, you may use food safe disposable gloves or wash/ wipe your hands in between forming the dough.
So, here you go. My step-by step instructions to make these Dango family inspired glutinous rice balls. Enjoy!