The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Festival is a statutory holiday in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet. It commemorates the life and death of the famous scholar and China’s first poet, Qu Yuan (Chiu Yuan). The festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month (Double Fifth) on the Chinese lunar calendar. The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, hence, the date varies from year to year on the Gregorian calendar. This year, the festival falls on 9th June, 2016. Although it is not a public holiday in most parts of the world, most Chinese around the world celebrate the festival by preparing the most iconic food of the festival, the sticky rice dumpling. There’s no wonder the Dragon Boat Festival is also known as Dumpling Festival (Note: there’s a sad legend behind this Festival at the end of this post)
Journey of Love
Making the sticky rice dumpling, or most popularly known as Bak Chang (meat dumpling) in the lingo I am familiar with, has always been at the back of my mind since time immemorial.
And since time immemorial, I have been drooling looking at photos of one of the dreamiest dumplings on my planet of food list.
I have been telling myself for years, “I must make these dumplings“… BUT… Zilch! To be honest, it’s not difficult to make Bak Chang, but the laborious cum tedious process was the stumbling block. IF only I had kitchen helpers …
When my Mum and big sis came to visit me two summers ago, I was thrilled. I told them that we could dedicate an entire day making my sought-after glutinous rice dumplings. No probs, promised Mum and sis 🙂
Labour of Love
There are many different varieties of Bak Chang ~ Teochew, Hokkien, Hakka, Taiwanese, Cantonese, Nyonya… gosh, I’m out of breath now … and the list goes on, still. Therefore, in my opinion, there is no one rigid way to making these dumplings. The filling for the dumpling varies, which can be customised to one’s preference. For instance, some people may like a bit of sweet in their savoury Bak Chang, using fatty pork belly instead of lean meat or some colour in their glutinous rice (from white to blue tip to black … Hmmm…sounds like the belt grading systems of Taekwondo or perhaps Tang Soo Do or Jiu Jitsu? Lol!). Well, I am not fastidious about all that. I don’t care! Just give me the Bak Chang, please.
By the way, I was glad to observe Mum and big sis conjuring the magnificent Bak Chang live in my kitchen two summers ago *wink*
I showed them the ingredients for our Bak Chang. Both ladies nodded their heads, but Mum winced when she looked at the dried bamboo leaves. She was not use to using the flimsy-feel of the bamboo leaves. Mum used to wrap her Bak Chang with the sturdier and fragrant giant pandan leaves, which were in abundance in Sarawak and Kalimantan. Big sis had no issues with using the bamboo leaves because she had made Bak Chang in KL and Batu Pahat. Phew!
I captured the 2 sifus with the camera on my iPhone. While Mum chopped cloves after cloves of garlic and shallots, big sis did all the stir fries. Every single ingredient was treated individually and separately.
The dried bamboo leaves were soaked with several changes of water overnight. On the day of use, new water replaced the overnight water. Again, several changes of water took place until the water ran clear. Each leaf was dabbed dry with a towel. The cleaned bamboo leaves were then set aside until they were ready to be used.
The glutinous rice was washed and soaked for at least 2 hours. The shallots were fried first until crispy and were removed with a slotted spoon leaving the aromatic oil in the wok. Then my sis stir fried plenty of chopped garlic in the same oil until fragrant and she added the pre-soaked glutinous rice. The rice was seasoned with salt, chicken granules, freshly-milled white (Sarawak) peppercorns, light soy sauce, mushroom oyster sauce, freshly-ground dry-roasted coriander seeds and 5-spice powder, all to taste. She then quickly mixed and stir-fried the glutinous rice and added half of the crispy shallots. Note, the rice must not be completely cooked.
In another pan, my sis added some cooking oil and fried some chopped garlic until fragrant. She then added the minced pork and diced pre-soaked shiitake and seasoned with light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, mushroom oyster sauce, a little drizzle of sesame oil, freshly-ground coriander seeds, 5-spice powder, freshly-milled white pepper, salt and a dash of sugar, to taste. Finally, she added the remaining crispy fried shallots.
The dried shrimps were pre-soaked before they were quickly stir-fried. The peanuts were boiled. Then there were store-bought vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts and, yes… chickpeas, too! That’s the beauty of homemade rustic Bak Chang 😀
A Picture is worth a Thousand Words …
Thank you dearest Chefs for being the BEST kitchen helpers in the whole wide world. Love ya LOTS!
The journey of love continued with the boiling of the wrapped Bak Chang
in a big pot of boiling water. A bit of salt was added to the water and a batch of Bak Chang
was submerged in the boiled water.
The End of a Gruelling Journey: The Moment of Truth …
These Bak Chang were boiled for at least 3 hours and then hanged briefly to dry before consuming
Honestly speaking, it was beyond BombDiggity yummy inside AND out!
I wish to relive that journey of love on my own some day… Perhaps in my thermomix *wink*
Too bad, though, two years on, I’m still drooling at the photos of my Mum’s and sister’s glutinous rice meat dumplings! *blush*
Oh by the way, the Bak Chang froze brilliantly. You need to steam them for at least half an hour or more until they are warmed through.
It made excellent wholesome breakfast or a quick lunch, high-tea or dinner.
Mum and sis, thank you so much for taking my offer. You have succeeded in banishing my longstanding torments of craving for this thingie, here, in my very own kitchen! I’m sure you would have made the Bak Chang differently in your own kitchen, but with my simple and challenging bag of ingredients, we have managed to incorporate a bit of China in the tetrahedral-shaped glutinous rice savoury meat dumpling ~ Hakka (minced meat and boiled peanuts), Teochew (crispy fried shallots and 5-spice powder), Nyonya (ground coriander seeds), Hokkien (dark soy sauce and chestnuts). What more could I ask for 🙂
Making Bak Chang is by no means an easy chore. It entails a string of well-thought and structured process.
I salute to all of you out there in making this annual repertoire of one of the most arduous and relentless products seemingly easy looking.
A Sad Legend Has It …
(Adapted and modified from Beijing International “A Sad Story Of Qu Yuan” and the Wikipedia)
Have you ever wondered the connection between eating the glutinous rice dumpling with the Dragon Boat Festival? Well, I was one of the people who actually wondered about it, so I delved a bit further and read about the legend of the Chinese poet, Qu Yuan (or Chiu Yuan).
Qu Yuan was the number one advisor of the kingdom of Chu, however people were jealous of his position which also affected the King’s trust in him. The King unheeded his advice which resulted in the King’s death. The new King continued to enjoy the luxury life full of scandals and corruption. He thought Qu Yuan was a nuisance and a hindrance in his kingdom, so he was exiled. During that period, Qu Yuan wrote many patriotic poems.
One day, Qu Yuan met a fisherman, who never cared about the country and was quite satisfied with his life. The poet thought that the people only cared about themselves and not the future of the country. For the poet, it was meaningless to live, so he killed himself by drowning in the Miluo river. The fishermen tried to rescue him but the body was never found.
In order to keep fish and evil spirits away from his body, they beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles. They also threw rice into the water both as a food offering to Qu Yuan‘s spirit and also to distract the fish away from his body. However, the legend continues, that late one night, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared before his friends and told them that he died because he had taken himself under the river. Then, he asked his friends to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages to ward off the dragon.
These packages became a traditional food known as zongzi (Bak Chang or glutinous rice dumpling). The lumps of rice are now wrapped in leaves instead of silk. The act of racing to search for his body in boats gradually became the cultural tradition of dragon boat racing, held on the anniversary of his death every year on the fifth day of the fifth month (equivalent to Thursday, 9th June, 2016 in the Gregorian calendar)
Happy Duanwu Festival !
Happy Dragon Boat Festival to all celebrating!
Enjoy your Bak Chang 🙂