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Lantern Festival food: 'Tangyuan' or 'yuanxiao'
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March 2 marks this year's Lantern Festival according to the Chinese lunar calendar.

Following tradition, it's time to have glutinous rice balls, whose round shape symbolizes family unity, completeness and happiness.

In English, the delicacy made from glutinous rice flour has only one name. Yet in the Chinese language, some people call it tangyuan, while some yuanxiao.

Are they really the same thing?

In fact, the debate about the difference between tangyuan and yuanxiao has gone on for a while on the internet. On Zhihu, a Chinese version of the question-and-answer site Quora, many people asked about this.

Normally, tangyuan is considered a traditional food in South China, and the latter in North China.

And the most approved answer on Zhihu was from user Dingxiang Doctor, who gave a detailed explanation.

Difference 1: process

The round shape of tangyuan is created by hand. You shape the rice flour dough into balls, create an indentation in the dough, add the filling, then close it up and smooth out the dumpling by rolling it between hands. Nowadays, tangyuan often come in rainbowlike colors.

Though yuanxiao are also round, the shape is not made by hand. 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.

Difference 2: filling

The fillings in tangyuan are assorted and relatively soft. They could contain nuts, fruit, flowers and meat. The flavor could be either sweet or savory. Some tangyuan were even filled with kung pao chicken.

However, yuanxiao usually have sweet fillings, such as red bean paste or black sesame.

Differences 3: storage

Tangyuan can be stored in the refrigerator for a long time. Frozen tangyuan are available in many supermarkets in China. Yet yuanxiao are often made on the spot and soon consumed within the day of the Lantern Festival.

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