GEORGE TOWN: Housewife Mandy Chew started making colourful tang yuan (glutinous rice balls) figurines featuring cartoon and movie characters in 2019, and they quickly became a hit with the younger generation.

Chew said she made some figurines reflecting Christmas and New Year themes too.

“I learnt how to make tang yuan in 2019 and started making them to be sold.

“Instead of the traditional round balls, I incorporated some creativity to make little figurines with colourful dough, and sales picked up.

“With each figurine, customers may choose to fill them with either black sesame, red bean, pandan or peanut paste,” she said in an interview.

Helping Chew, 39, put together the colourful glutinous rice balls are her husband, eight-year-old son, mother-in-law, relatives and neighbours.

Her preparation for the tang yuan figurines starts at end of November as they are all made to order.

Chew, who receives orders from traders and customers from as far as Singapore, said the tang yuan figurines were packed in plastic containers and kept frozen before delivery ahead of the Winter Solstice Festival.

She said incorporating modern creativity into the traditional Chinese dessert had been well- received by the younger generation.

“They are able to enjoy the tang yuan which is modern but retains elements of the tradition,” she said.

Chew, who has also been making the classic tang yuan balls since 2020 using natural ingredients for the colour, said her health-conscious customers would usually place their orders early as they were homemade without artificial colouring.

“I use pumpkin for yellow, dragon fruit for red, pandan for green and cocoa powder for brown,” she said.

“Each day, we roll out about 30 boxes. Each box containing about 100 balls.

“It’s a collective effort. Each year we look forward to making tang yuan as it is an occasion when we get together.”

Winter Solstice takes place on Dec 22 each year.

It is the peak of winter and after the solstice passes, daylight hours become longer and nights grow shorter.

With little to eat in China’s ancient agrarian societies during the snowy weather, tang yuan desserts became their sole feast.

Farmers would look forward to winter ebbing and get ready for the next planting season when spring comes.