Tangyuan is the traditional food for the Lantern Festival or Yuanxiao Festival. The small dumpling balls are usually made of glutinous rice flour.
We call these balls yuanxiao or tangyuan. Obviously, they get the name from the festival itself. Made of sticky rice flour filled with sweet stuffing and round in shape, it symbolizes family unity, completeness and happiness.
The fillings inside the dumplings or yuanxiao are either sweet or salty. Sweet fillings are made of sugar, Walnuts, sesame, osmanthus flowers, rose petals, sweetened tangerine peel, bean paste, or jujube paste. A single ingredient or any combination can be used as the filling. The salty variety is filled with minced meat, vegetables or a mixture.
The way to make yuanxiao also varied between northern and southern China. The usual method followed in southern provinces is to shape the dough of rice flour into balls, make a hole, insert the filling, then close the hole and smooth out the dumpling by rolling it between your hands. In North China, sweet or non-meat stuffing is the usual ingredient. The fillings are pressed into hardened cores, dipped lightly in water and rolled in a flat basket containing dry glutinous rice flour. A layer of the flour sticks to the filling, which is then again dipped in water and rolled a second time in the rice flour. And so it goes, like rolling a snowball, until the dumpling is the desired size.