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Fan Tuan – Luscious Taiwanese Rice Balls

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

Fantuan is just one more Chinese delicacy we are bringing you today. Sushi fans will fall in love immediately, as it shares many similarities in its use of rice. Fan Tuan is basically a sticky rice roll which is served popularly in Taiwan and mainland China and is enjoyed by the locals as Taiwanese rice balls.

Sweet rice is one thing Fan Tuan is famous for, and its savory filling is certainly a lot to get excited about. Over the course of this article, we will discover how this simple Taiwanese breakfast dish branched out to other parts of the world and all the ways you can enjoy the best fan tuan flavors.

In Taiwan, sticky rice rolls are a regular morning meal that is served at every street cart in large bamboo bowls or buckets. If you ever get to visit Taiwan, the taste of freshly made Fan Tuan will stay in your memory forever.

This dish is not simply food associated with the Chinese menu, but has evolved an entire culture of its own. It evokes a time when people used to hang out in the streets, going over their problems and sharing small talk and laughter. This gives so much more value to this savory delight.

FanTuan Rice balls

Rice balls are called ‘Fan Tuan’ in Mandarin and in Taiwan. These balls are oblong in shape and have a sticky rice layer on the outside and special stuffing on the inside.

Traditionally, the outer layer of sticky rice used to have a further layer of salted radish or pickled mustard leaves or sometimes lotus leaves. These extra wrappings were there to add more flavor to the Tuan. But today, for ease and convenience, the balls are simply wrapped using a plastic sheet.

Fan Tuan is a popular breakfast in the Da’an District of Taipei, which is the capital of Taiwan. Inside the city, you can spot a Fan Tuan vendor from miles away because of the long lines around the place. Many big places like Liu Mama Fan Tuan had to make three different sections to serve Fan Tuan to all the people coming in.

There is no one type of Fan Tuan that you can serve and satisfy every customer with. The numerous varieties and flavors of the recipe make it a not so simple dish today.

Eleven different ways to Enjoy Fan Tuan:

Well, dozens of options are still good news for foodies like us. Taiwanese sticky rice balls are made in a variety of different styles by just changing the filling inside. Here are eleven popular varieties of Fan Tuan which are enjoyed in different parts of Taiwan.

1. Traditional: Traditional Fan Tuan recipes are made out of sticky rice, pickled mustard green, radish, cruller, braised egg, and pork floss. The rice is spread over the greens in a thin, compact layer and then topped with egg, pork. Then the rice is rolled by rolling the mustard greens. Pork floss is dried meat which is cooked by a process of dehydration. The eggs are braised in a salty soy sauce.

2. For Sweet Tooth: Sweet Fan Tuan can be served as a snack or a dessert. The recipe is simple. All it takes is white sticky rice, brown sugar and cruller. People who enjoy something sweet in the morning find this variety of Fan Tuan extremely satisfying.

First spread the layer of rice then stuff it with brown sugar and cruller at the center. Using cruller adds an extra crunch. Serve it with a cup of coffee or tea in the morning.

3. Egg Rolls: Egg roll Fan Tuan differs slightly in its recipe from the originals. It has some extra ingredients along with an egg wrap. It requires sticky rice, greens, radish, braised egg, cruller, fish floss, scallions and egg wrap. This combination is perfect for breakfasts as it has everything you could ask for to kick start your day.

It is first prepared like any other Fan Tuan, and then egg cooked with scallions is wrapped around the mustard greens layers. This additional layer adds both appeal and plenty of macronutrients like protein. You can also sprinkle some spices on top of the balls to infuse a better taste.

4. Bacon Stuffed: Use of bacon in Fan Tuan adds an extra crisp to the recipe. Bacon lovers will fall for this variety of the sticky rice balls. They are made out of the same old ingredients including sticky rice, mustard greens, pickled radish, fish floss, braised egg, and cruller.

Before you add bacon to the filling, make sure to sauté it well until it’s brown and crispy in the pan. You can drizzle some salt and pepper while sautéing to add a little flavor to the bacon. Once seared, place the bacon on a plate lined with paper towel to absorb all the extra fat.

5. Minced Pork with Burdock Root: There is another way to enjoy some pork in Fan Tuan, and it that’s with Burdock root. Not only is pork floss used in this recipe, but a sautéed minced pork mixture is also added to the stuffing. The combination is rich and consists of sticky rice, pork floss, cruller, minced pork, radish, braised egg, mustard greens, pickled Burdock root, and seaweed wrap.

Burdock roots have a strong ginger-like taste, and it is cut into slivers before being added to the filling. The flavor of pickled burdock complements the taste of minced pork well. Make sure to season the minced pork while you sauté it.

6. Purple Rice Original: Savory Fan Tuan, this style makes your dish more delicious and inspiring by using a purple rice layer. These Fan Tuan are also traditional rice rolls, as the locals enjoy it often. There is sticky purple rice in the recipe instead of white sticky rice. This layer is followed by pickled radish then mustard greens, egg, pork floss and finally the cruller.

Purple rice is really good for the health as per Chinese food experts, and they also hold significance in Chinese medicinal philosophy. It is good especially for women, as it contains a good number of essential vitamins and minerals. This rice is full of anti-oxidants which are great for skin. Texture-wise, purple rice is just as sticky as the white rice.

7. Purple Kimchi and Pork: Kimchi is used liberally in many Asian dishes, especially in Korean Cuisine. It is the fermented product of vegetables like cabbage. Fan Tuan with kimchi is extra crunchy. It is stuffed inside the purple rice layer along with minced pork, radish, mustard greens, egg, pork floss and finally cruller. These balls are stuffed with a good proportion of pork and kimchi for a very pleasing texture.

8. Tuna and Corn: You will be amazed at the variety of the ingredients used in this type of Fan Tuan. It is made out of white sticky rice, egg, pork floss, minced pork, radish, greens, egg, and seaweed wrap. There are two additional ingredients that make this recipe even more delicious: corn and tuna.

This Fan Tuan can cost you some extra bucks of course but it tastes super good and is totally worth the expense. Make sure to drain the tuna before adding it to the stuffing, the same goes for the tin packed corn kernels.

9. Spicy Chicken: This is the Fan Tuan which people order the most whether within Taiwan or outside it. Those of you who don’t really enjoy eating red meat can switch to this particular option. It has a tangy chicken filling. The chicken fillet is first cooked with desired spices in a sauté pan, and is then sliced. You can also stuff the rice roll with the full fillet. It is completely up to you.

To make the outer layer thicker, double layers of white and purple sticky rice are used. The rest of the ingredients are the same as any traditional Fan Tuan recipe.

10. Cheese: We cannot imagine a world where a recipe does not have a cheesy variety. Well, luckily Fan Tuan can also be prepared using shredded cheese. The idea is simple: add cheese of your choice to the rice ball stuffing.

For these balls, white sticky rice, radish, greens, egg, pork floss, and cruller are used in a perfect combination along with cheese. For a richer taste, you can add shredded cheddar. Parmesan or mozzarella can also be used.

11. Five-Grain Vegan: These Fan Tuan rice balls are not made out of any meat or meat floss. Rather, it is an all vegan recipe! It has five-grain rice instead of white sticky. And the rice is stuffed with mustard greens, bean curd, carrots, radish, or vegan tofu.

You can sauté the tofu in a pan along with your favorite spice, preferably salt and black pepper. Add tofu slices to the stuffing. You can also sauté carrots with the tofu as desired, or else fresh carrot slices also taste delicious in these rice balls.

The Famous Taiwanese Fan Tuan Recipe

It’s about time that we start making the famous Taiwanese Fan Tuan. When you master this recipe, you won’t have to go to a Chinese restaurant to satisfy your craving anymore!

Just to be clear, the recipe shared here is traditional Fan Tuan, which is prepared out of the basic Tuan ingredients. But you can make your favorite variety, as discussed above, by adding your preferred ingredients like minced pork, spicy chicken, cheese, purple rice or carrots or tofu. Or you can also try all the varieties on a single platter by changing the stuffing of every rice ball you make. Just make sure that your rice is sticky enough to hold the filling inside.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup short grain white rice
  • 1 cup sweet rice
  • 1½ cups water
  • 2 pieces of Chinese fried dough
  • 1 cup pork sung
  • ½ cup finely chopped Chinese preserved vegetable
  • Chopped cilantro and scallion
  • Toasted sesame seeds

Instructions

Use a rice cooker to cook the short grain rice and sweet rice. Simply add water and rice to the cooker and cook them on sweet rice settings or any settings suitable to your cooker. The rice should full be fully cooked until they are al dente, which is a bit firm but chewy.

Meanwhile, you can prepare the remaining material for the Fan Tuan. Toast the Chinese fried dough in a skillet until it becomes crispy. Once the rice is cooked, scoop ½ out onto a sushi rolling mat lined with plastic wrap.  Spread the rice in a thin yet compact layer. Use wet hands to press the rice well against the plastic sheet.

Avoid making it thin.

Now add a piece of toasted Chinese fried dough to the center of the rice layer and add half of the pork sung and Chinese vegetables. Here you can sprinkle cilantro, scallions and sesame seeds on top of the filling. Now start rolling up the rice layer into a compact roll. Do this by rolling the sushi mat. At the end press the mat to ensure the rice ball is compact enough. Now repeat the steps and make another rice ball!

Once prepared, slice the Fan Tuan rice balls and serve as a delicious breakfast.

Conclusion

Who would have imagined that Taiwan’s finest delicacy could be so simple and quick to make? Adding Fan Tuan to the menu is like bringing Taiwanese culture right into your home. That is how significant this recipe is. With so many epic varieties available, there is no reason to not give this a try!

Start with the basic recipe and enjoy all of its traditional flavors and then explore all of its other varieties. Make sure you also share the recipe with your friends and family. Fan Tuan rice balls are full of essential nutrients and are the best breakfast anyone could hope for.

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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