Every year, across countries in Asia where glutinous rice balls are consumed on auspicious occasions, one often reads about some kid or elderly choking to death on a ball. Yet, the asian love for all things round continues and I couldn't keep out the sound of the salesgirls promoting their glutinous rice balls in Carrefour in the week leading to the end of CNY, nor could I stop receiving (on social media) all sorts of well wishes for 元宵 - also known as the Chinese Valentine's Day.
I guess the folklore of lovers reuniting under the full moon is irresistible for the Chinese and the fact that you could play with the characters/symbols and come out with all kinds of wishes for fullness, wealth etc make it a sure hit with the superstitious. However, the occasion is not celebrated the same way everywhere in the Chinese world and the way one would eat a glutinous rice ball would also differ according to local customs or taste.
I remember that when I was a kid, mum would roll her own glutinous rice balls and they would be plain, white and red, and served in a sweetened soup. Of course the Gods and ancestors would always get to try them first, but I loved them and didn't mind having the leftovers :-).
Then the age of the industrially-produced frozen glutinous rice balls arrived and we would have them stuffed with sesame paste, peanuts or red bean paste. From the look of things the Chinese where I am are now at this stage because almost every person I questioned about the rice balls was not making his own. Quite a pity since we all know now that it is best to avoid consuming industrially produced food products wherever possible, plus glutinous rice balls are probably one of the easiest things to make on one's own.
In Shanghai, the Chinese also eat savoury meat-filled glutinous rice balls which are not something I am used to. And according to my driver Zong, what matters to them is the filling (whether sweet or savoury) and not much attention is usually paid to the soup. In fact, they usually just serve their precious glutinous rice balls in hot water.
I will not bother to blog the recipe since I've done so about 5 years ago. For this year's yuanxiao, I made 3 types of glutinous rice balls: rose and pandanus flavoured, as well as plain white balls stuffed with salted duck egg yolk. The soup was a simple brown sugar with ginger and pandanus leaves solution. If using Taikoo's ginger brown sugar, use it sparingly and combine with normal white sugar as the former is very very strong.
I made each kid eat just one glutinous rice ball for the occasion as they are not at all into it (I guess it's an acquired taste) while I gobbled down the rest. I thought it made a good occasion for teaching them about some of the Chinese customs while we are still living in China.