Rochester Local

Celebrating Winter Solstice in Rochester MN

While Christmas is definitely the most visible holiday of December across the globe, Winter Solstice (DongZhi 冬至) is the holiday we celebrate in Taiwan. Winter Solstice usually falls between December 21st to December 23rd in the northern hemisphere, when the day is shortest and night is the longest. Eating well and preparing the body for winter is especially important on this day. Hot pots with herbal medicine are popular for warming the body from the inside out and helping with blood circulation. Most Taiwanese eat TangYuan (湯圓), glutinous rice balls, to celebrate Winter Solstice and the end of another year. “Growing a year older” (吃湯圓長一歲) after eating TangYuan is something we hear growing up; without eating TangYuan, the year simply isn’t complete.

The celebration of Winter Solstice in my family is usually pretty low key, but eating TangYuan (湯圓)- glutinous rice balls- is a must every year.

Types of TangYuan

TangYuan is a lot like mochi. Not the kind with ice cream in it but warm, sticky, soft, chewy little balls that swim in a variety of broths, both sweet and savory. These little balls are made of rice, which is naturally gluten free. “Glutinous” refers to how sticky the rice is, not the gluten content of the rice.

The basic TangYuan are simply little glutinous rice balls that are about the size of boba tapioca pearls. They are often white and pink in color, the white ones symbolizes wealth and the red ones symbolizes good people relations. These little balls are easy to make: simply take glutinous rice flour (mochiko, sweet rice flour), mix with water to make a dough and roll them into balls. The TangYuan doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own, so the broth plays an important role. The classic combinations for TangYuan include sweet adzuki bean soup, black sugar ginger broth, or making it savory by stir frying shallots, shiitake mushroom, dried shrimp, and thin strips of pork to make a broth.

Stuffed TangYuan takes the same dough but fill it with sweet or savory fillings. Sweet black sesame is a favorite of my family, sweet peanut and pork tangyuan are also popular. With the sweet dumplings, my family would serve with plain hot water as broth since we don’t like it too sweet, but other families would often serve the TangYuan in syrup or hot water with JiuNiang (酒釀), fermented sweet rice.

The most important thing while eating TangYuan? Eat them in pairs! Odd numbers are considered bad luck, and eating an even number of TangYuan will ensure the coming year will be smooth and well-rounded.

Where to Get TangYuan in Rochester

Asian Food Store on 7th Street has them in the frozen section by the register! If you’re lucky, you’ll find new and creative flavors like Tiger Sugar’s black sugar milk TangYuan.

Make it yourself

Here are recipes I created to make TangYuan in your own home, ranging from the easiest to the hardest:




Other Winter Solstice Traditions

Eating JiaoZi (餃子) dumplings instead of TangYuan is also popular during Winter Solstice. It symbolizes wealth because the shape of the dumplings look like gold nuggets(金元寶) from back in the day.

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