Annie Wang remembers eating hot tangyuan soup when she was a kid. On chilly nights — or whenever her parents felt the inclination to prepare them — she’d spoon the chewy, sticky-sweet glutinous rice balls into her mouth. She didn’t think of them as being associated with any particular holiday or cultural tradition. “They were just a treat,” Wang says.
For the past two years, Wang has run Annie’s T Cakes, a home bakery that specializes in vegan Chinese and Taiwanese sweets. The business has provided, among other things, an ongoing cultural education for the baker. Now, Wang knows that tangyuan are traditionally eaten during Lunar New Year — specifically to celebrate the Lantern Festival, which takes place on the 15th and final day of the holiday. She knows that the dessert symbolizes the big family gatherings that typically happen at this time of year because the word “tangyuan” sounds similar to the phrase “tuan yuan,” which means “reunion.”
And of course Wang also learned to make her own version, which Annie’s T Cakes will sell this year to help customers ring in the Year of the Rabbit (or the Year of the Cat, if you’re Vietnamese). The tangyuan soup kits can be preordered from now through Jan. 15, and they’ll be available for pickup in Oakland in the days leading up to Lunar New Year, which falls on Jan. 22 this year.
These days Bay Area dessert enthusiasts can buy decent frozen tangyuan all year round at their local 99 Ranch and other Asian grocery stores. Wang’s version is distinctive in part because her tangyuan are fully vegan — many old-school recipes call for the use of lard. And in addition to the most traditional flavors (red bean, peanut and, her favorite, black sesame), Wang has also added a nontraditional, Filipino-inspired ube filling to the lineup this year, using ube paste made by Filipino American chef Ace Boral of Oakland’s Baba’s House Kitchen.