Falling on the 18th June Monday of Raya week is the Dragon Boat Festival.
This festival is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month in the Chinese lunar calendar. Also known as Duan Wu Jie (端午节), the festival honours a famous and successful scholar-poet Qu Yuan. He took his life by jumping into a river when the king refused to take his advice, leading to a great war.
Dragon boat races are organised as a symbol of a search party for Qu Yuan’s body on the river. In the past, people threw rice dumplings into the river to drive the fishes away from the body. However, these days, these rice dumplings serve as a delicious delicacy.
Yet, some also say that the sticky rice triangles wrapped in bamboo leaves are for Qu Yuan in the afterlife. Others may believe that the paddling of the boats in those days was supposedly meant to scare the fishes away.
On the other hand, rice dumplings or Zong Zi (粽子) are made from sticky or glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings. They are then wrapped in bamboo leaves in a triangular-based pyramid shape. Finally, the dumplings are tied with plant stems or raffia strings.
Depending on the region, there are different types of dumplings (or zhong in Cantonese and zhang in Hokkien). Still, they generally come in two kinds: savoury and sweet.
Below is the list of Chinese rice dumplings you can find in Malaysia:
1. Cantonese Rice Dumpling
First and foremost, Cantonese version requires more ingredients. The fillings range from pork belly and mung beans to shiitake mushroom and salted egg yolk. The salted egg yolk is the unique selling point which makes it more fragrant. Some of the dumplings may also be wrapped in the shape other than usual pyramidal shape.
These dumplings are called Ham Yuk Zong/Yuk Zong (肉粽) in Cantonese.
2. Hokkien Rice Dumpling
Among all the traditional rice dumpling, the Hokkien rice dumplings have the most lavish ingredients. Usually, you can find dried chestnut, pork belly, shiitake mushroom, dried shrimp, and even dried oysters. Some people may also opt to add egg yolk too.
Image by singaporebestfoods.com.
In Hokkien, Bak Chang is the pronunciation for the same Chinese characters of 肉粽. The fragrance of soy sauce and five-spice powder in the rice fried beforehand is the trademark of Hokkien rice dumpling.
3. Teochew Rice Dumpling
Less known than the first two, Teochew version offers sweet yet savoury delight. Usually, these rice dumplings include red bean paste or lotus seed paste as the sweet filling.
In contrast, marinated pork belly, shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp, Chinese sausage, salted egg yolk, chestnuts and lotus seeds provide savoury taste.
4. Nyonya (Peranakan) Rice Dumpling
Up next is the Nyonya or Peranakan rice dumpling. Its iconic blue rice obtains its colour from the butterfly pea flower. Meanwhile, the ingredients generally consist of minced pork with shiitake mushroom, candied winter melon, ground roasted peanuts, coriander seeds and taucheo (salted, fermented soybeans).
You can taste both sweet and savoury elements when eating the dumplings. Some people may also use pandan leaves instead of bamboo leaves as wrappings.
5. Black-Eye Beans Rice Dumplings
On the other hand, this is a savoury dumpling made from fried glutinous rice and stuffed with black-eyed beans and mushroom. It is yummy even with basic ingredients.
These rice dumplings can be halal or vegetarian depending on the oil used to fry the ingredients.
6. Gan Sui Joong or Kee Chang (Rice Dumpling With Red Bean Filling)
Lastly, there are dessert-like rice dumplings. They are known as Gan Sui Joong (碱水粽) in Cantonese and Kee Chang in Hokkien. One thing to note is its distinctive yellowish colour. This is because the glutinous rice is treated with alkaline lye water.
This version is basically the plain version of the rice dumpling. Sometimes, you can find it stuffed with red bean filling.
Most of the time, Malaysian Chinese eat the plain version with different sweet condiments. You can use plain white sugar, gula melaka (palm sugar) or kaya (local coconut spread).
Personally, it is also delicious when served with sweetened condensed milk. It is definitely a sinful combination!