RECIPE: Red Bean Tangyuan (Rice Balls)

People & Culture

Tangyuan Balls in Chinese Lantern Festival Setting, China

Tangyuan, or tang yuan, is a dessert traditionally enjoyed in China during the Chinese Lantern Festival, which occurs 15 days after the new Lunar New Year, ending Chinese New Year celebrations.

Although not a public holiday, people get together in the evening to enjoy Chinese lantern lightings, lantern riddles, dragon dancing, and of course, eating Tangyuan. Most of these traditions are a way for the Chinese to pray for bright futures for both themselves and their families. In fact, the round shape of these rice balls signify wholeness and togetherness.

Tangyuan can be enjoyed plain or stuffed with various sweet fillings, and is served hot in a sweet ginger syrup. As an option, adding a few drops of food colouring to the dough can make them look quite festive!

Chinese Lanterns
Chinese lanterns

Servings: 3-4 (12 rice balls)


Rice Balls

  • 1/2 cup glutenous rice flour
  • 2-3 oz. water
  • 1/4 cup sweet red bean (azuki) paste
  • A few drops food colouring (optional)*

Sweet Syrup

  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tbsps brown sugar
  • 4 half inch slices of fresh ginger


  1. Mix the rice flour and the water together (*along with a few drops of desired food colouring) until it forms a smooth paste and no longer sticks to your hands.
  2. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Then, gently flatten each ball to a 1/4″ thickness with your fingers, forming it into a shallow “bowl”.
  3. For each piece, place approximately a teaspoon (or to taste) of the red bean paste in the centre of the dough, and then seal the dough to make a round ball, careful not to tear it.
  4. Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil.
  5. Drop the rice balls into the boiling water. The balls are ready when they float up to the surface. Remove from heat.
  6. While the balls are cooking, in a separate saucepan, boil 2 cups of water with the brown sugar and ginger slices.
  7. Bring the syrup to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  8. Strain the rice balls into a serving bowl (approx. 3 or 4 per serving) and ladle the syrup (approx. 1/2 cup each) on top. Serve hot.