I used to love a boy whose favorite dessert was tang yuen or glutinous rice balls. I remembered him telling me that the perfect tang yuen had to have a chewy texture and the broth of which it swims in must be spicy from all that old ginger and perfumed with the heady scent of screwpine or pandan leaves.
And because I loved him, I became obsessed with making the ‘perfect’ tang yuen. I boiled them separately so as to not cloud the final ginger syrup and shocked them in ice water to retain that proverbial ‘bite’. I made them in different sizes, used different brands of glutinous rice flour, different amounts of ginger and sugar. I remembered trying and trying and trying.
I remembered the very first time he tried the results of my obsession hard work, he told me that it was the best tang yuen he’s ever tasted. I don’t remember much of anything else but that I told him that he was lying – the balls lacked that texture, the soup was too sweet/spicy, that surely that bowl of dessert deserved to be in the bin. This to which he denied and proceed to finish everything.
It’s been almost a year now and I don’t love the boy anymore. And I came to a realization that perhaps I was right – that he was really telling a lie. That perhaps it was the worst tang yuen in the world. But that and all the other nitty gritty details did not matter because at that point in his life, it was a bowl of his favorite dessert made by his favorite girl in the world.
The recipe below is an improved one though (I bet he wished he hadn’t left me now). And I promise that you wouldn’t need a heartbreak or too many mistakes in order to learn how to make it.
1 cup + 2 tbsp glutinous rice flour
2 tbsp plain flour
1 cup of boiling water
A bundle of screw pine/pandan leaves
Slices of old ginger (Old ginger is spicier and has more depth in flavor)
1. Mix glutinous rice flour and plain flour together.
2. Gradually pour in boiling water while mixing.
3. Add enough water until you form a pliable dough that is slightly sticky.
4. Knead for 5 minutes, leave to rest.
(In the mean time, put all of the syrup ingredients into a pot and bring up to a boil until sugar dissolves. Leave aside)
5. Roll out individual balls (Not too big or the middle will be soft and tacky)
6. Bring a separate pot of water to a boil and drop in the balls. Once they float, they are done.
7. Transfer to ice water (you can skip this step if you’re eating straight away).
8. Divide into individual bowls and ladle over hot ginger syrup.
9. Serve to ex boy/girlfriends immediately.
* Do add as much/as little as you want – more ginger if you like it with more heat, more sugar if u like it sweeter.