Friday, December 23, 2005

Dong Zhi

Dec 22 - Tung Chit (Festival)

Today is Tung Chit, and based on Chinese tradition the whole family will be together and eat the Tong Yuen (glutinous rice ball in sugar syrup)

Why was it celebrated by the Chinese.......

Winter Solstice Festival , 冬至 dōngzhì

Celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians on or around December 22 when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest. It is the time when farmers and fishermen collect supplies and food in preparation for the coming winter.

In modern times, it is a time for the family to get together. One activity that occurs during these get together is the making and eating of Tong Yuen ( 湯圓 , as pronounced in Cantonese ; Mandarin Pinyin : Tāng Yuán ) or balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion. Tong Yuen are made of glutinous rice flour and sometimes brightly colored. Every one in the family receives at least one large Tong Yuen and several small ones. The flour balls may be plain or stuffed. They are cooked in a sweet soup or savory broth with both the ball and the soup/broth served in one bowl.

Kuih Ee (glutinous rice balls in sugar syrup)

Traditionally, Kuih Ee (tong yuen) is served on special occasions such as during weddings and the winter solstice festival (sometime during the end of December, about a month before the Chinese New Year). These days however, Kuih Ee is available daily in Penang from certain hawkers in the Pulau Tikus and Ayer Itam markets in the morning.

In the popular local version, Kuih Ee consists of glutinous rice balls coloured brightly and poached in a sweet ginger flavoured syrup – a truly scrumptious experience!

A hawker located in an alley off Magazine Road (opposite Shangri-la Hotel) sells large sized Kuih Ee containing a filling of peanuts cooked in sugar syrup during tea time.

Whether traditional or localised, with or without filling, the round shape of the Kuih Ee glutinous rice ball is a symbol of wholeness, completeness and unity.

To make your own Kuih Ee, use the recipe below. You can also purchase ready kneaded coloured flour from most markets which is available during the Winter Solstice season.

If you'd rather not roll your own kueh ee balls, you can buy pre-rolled and coloured kueh ee balls – all you need do is to dump them in boiling syrup.

Despite all these conveniences, nothing compares to making it from scratch, with members of the family gathered together and helping out with the kneading and rolling of the coloured flour into marble-sized balls.


3 cups glutinous rice (beras pulut) flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 inch piece of old ginger (optional)
Screwpine leaves (daun pandan)
Food colouring (e.g. red, yellow, green, blue, pink, orange)

Glutinous rice balls

1. Set a pot of water to boil.
2. Add water to rice flour and knead to a smooth dough.
3. Separate the dough into several large pieces and colour them accordingly, and knead until colour is evenly distributed.
4. Pinch dough into small even pieces (depending on the size preference).
5. Roll dough pieces in palm of hands into a smooth ball about the size of a longan.
6. Pop the balls into boiling water. The moment they rise, they should immediately be fished out and put into the syrup.


1. Bring water to boil.
2. Add sugar, ginger (optional) and daun pandan.
3. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
4. Simmer for about 10 minutes or until fragrant

Serve immediately.

Helpful tips

1. Kuih Ee should be eaten fresh and not refrigerated as this may toughen the texture of the balls.
2. Reheating Kuih Ee over a stove or in the microwave is not recommended.

The many variations of Kuih Ee – giving it a local touch and flavour

This simple recipe was handed down to me by my mother. Note that some Penangites break away from tradition and replace the sugar syrup with coconut milk (like bubur chacha gravy) and add sweet potato puree or green bean paste into the dough. A stall opposite Shangri-La Hotel on Magazine Road specialises in making Kuih Ee balls filled with crushed groudnuts poached in a sweet groundnut-based soup. All these little 'variations' add a touch of 'localness' and creativity to an otherwise traditional specialty. If you feel inspired to make tong yuen with a difference, go ahead and take the plunge. Be adventurous!

Just as the Winter Solstice festival is about balance and harmony in life, and a time for optimism, so the handing down of this recipe is a good example of unity within the family.

This season, I'm getting my daughter Jean away from her Power Puff movies and into the art of rolling and colouring Kuih Ee. It can be a memorable and fun experience that she will remember always, and then pass on to another generation.

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