Chengdu: City of Gastronomy #10
赖汤圆 – Lài Tāng Yuán
Glutinous rice flour is made into a dough and wrapped around some sweetened black sesame paste.
This is tang yuan, a popular street snack in Chengdu. Lai was one of the first people to make this dish. In 1894 he started serving them at a small stand. By the 30s, he opened up a restaurant on Chengdu’s famous shopping street, Chunxi Road. Over the course of a hundred years his balls have become the most famous balls in Chengdu.
In 2006, the ministry of commerce recognized them as a “Time Honoured Food Brand in China”.
Glutinous rice is made into a dough which is stuffed with a slightly sweet black sesame paste. The outer texture is very soft and a bit chewy. The inside provides an extra texture and a sweet nutty taste.
There are other versions of tang yuan. I’ve read about versions stuffed with walnuts, osmanthus flowers, rose petals, red bean, peanuts, and even jujubes.
I’m not actually a huge fan of desserts, and I wouldn’t even rank this dish high on my list of desserts, but I do love the look of it – little spheres dusted in white – I think they’re beautiful.
Where to try Lai’s Balls in Chengdu
We went to Lai’s main branch, which is located across the road from the Chunxi Road tourist area. Of course, they serve tang yuan, but they also have a plethora of other dishes. We ordered their 17 course meal. Seventeen small dishes that we shared. Some of them were really great. Others, not so much. But it’s a great way to sample a variety of Sichuan eats. The cost was only about $6.