Besides entertainment and beautiful lanterns, another important part of the Lantern Festival,or Yuanxiao Festival is eating small dumpling balls made of glutinous rice flour. We call these balls Yuanxiao or Tangyuan. Obviously, they get the name from the festival itself. It is said that the custom of eating Yuanxiao originated during the Eastern Jin Dynasty in the fourth centuty, then became popular during the Tang and Song periods.
The fillings inside the dumplings or Yuansiao are either sweet or salty. Sweet fillings are made of sugar, Walnuts(胡桃), sesame, osmanthus flowers(桂花), rose petals, sweetened tangerine peel, bean paste, or jujube paste(枣泥). 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 varies 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 nonmeat 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.
The custom of eating Yuanxiao dumplings remains. This tradition encourages both old and new stores to promote their Yuanxiao products. They all try their best to improve the taste and quality of the dumplings to attract more customers.