From Taishan to Marin County, Tradition and Recipe of Tang Yuan

Kenji Ma, Honorable Mention
8th Grade
San Rafael

Nihao, my name is Tang Yuan (湯圓) also known as Chinese mochi ball soup.  My name literally means “round ball in soup”, but for many families in China as well as overseas, I have come to symbolize family togetherness.  Over the years, I have spent many family gatherings with Kenji Ma and his family.  Every year during the Winter Solstice (冬至) I join a group of friend ingredients to make a delicious comfort soup enjoyed by everybody.  Tang Yuan soup was first eaten during the Sung Dynasty some 800 years ago.  Though it is unclear how and when this dish was introduced to the villages of Taishan, in the province of Guangdong, it is clear that the tradition has been exported all the way to Marin County.  Most importantly, the tradition will continue among the present and future generations to come.

All ingredients in my soup are symbolic to something good in the Chinese language.  For example, the dish itself symbolizes the reunion of family.  The soup base consists of chicken and pork stock (高湯), which is symbolic for being very wealthy.  Prawns (蝦) symbolize the sounds of laughter.  Turnips (蘿蔔) exemplify having new clothes to wear.  Green onions (蔥) mean having smarts and dried scallops (元貝) symbolize gold nuggets.  Some additional ingredients such as sun-dried tangerine peels (陳皮) are symbolic for luckiness.  Salted and cured pork (火腿) means being plentiful.  Lastly, the Shiitake mushroom (香菇) symbolizes longevity.

I, Tang Yuan, am made of glutinous rice flour (糯米粉) and water (水).  The family members hand-roll me into bite-size balls of dough.  It is definitely more fun when the dish is prepared by the entire family.  The taste of this soup varies in different households and is passed down from generation to generation.  Even though there are so many enjoyable things during the Chinese winter festivals, Kenji loves preparing this special recipe with his grandma.  Along with his two cousins, they would take some of the excess Yuan dough, dye them with food coloring, and then shape them into animals and figurines.  I can tell that the main ingredients that makes this soup so successful are the love and happiness that the family puts into the process.  Though Kenji has lived his entire life in Marin County, which is predominantly a western community, he shares this Taishanese dish and tradition with his friends in hope that they also understand of the importance of family togetherness and bonding.

Kenji’s family has imported a tradition of coming together and making Tang Yuan soup.  As he and his little cousins assimilate with American culture, he will carry on this family tradition as part of growing up Chinese in America.  He longs to visit the villages and rice fields where his father and grandfathers grew up and most importantly to compare other family’s Tang Yuan recipes.