I am back in my hometown for the weekdays and I had gotten myself busy with, yes you guess it, cooking! Well, I know I’m pretty late but since I only got back last two days, I pestered my Lai Ma (nanny) into making bak chang with me.
Bak chang is actually Chinese meat dumpling that is usually made during the Duan Wu festival. As all Chinese festivals, this one too has a legend behind it. This day is to honor Qu Yuan, a wise minister in China who was greatly loved by common people. Due to despair of the government and the defeat of his country, he drowned himself in a river. After that people searched for him in the river with long boats, beating drums as they went and throwing dumplings into the river to feed the fishes so that they won’t eat his body. After that, on this day, fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar, it is then customary to enjoy bak chang (commonly known as zongzi) in memorial. Dumplings are made and enjoyed while dragon boat races are also held alongside, in commemoration of the initial search.
Since young, I had always enjoyed these dumplings, thought it is only quite recently that I learned of the meaning behind it. There are many types of chang (dumpling) made here in Malaysia. The usual ones that I know of is bak chang (which I made this time), which is savoury, and the kan sui chong, which is the sweet type, made plain with lye water and to dip with kaya or coconut caramel. These two are my usual favourites. Bak chang comes in two types, the dark or the white ones. Foodcrazee had talked bout the white ones here. The usual ones that I always had were the dark ones, which is the one I made this time. Bak chang usually have sam chang bak (pork belly), Chinese mushrooms, dried shrimps, either pak mei tau or lok tau (split green peas), salty duck egg yolk and of course, my personal favourite, fong lut (chesnuts).
The process was tedious, as I had expected. But I was adamant to learn and make it; else the tradition and method will be lost. After all, making this dumpling seems like a very good addition to my ‘exploring my origin’ project.
When I got back, I was only half expecting my Lai Ma to make bak chang with me, I had requested since last week, as she is the type who needs to be in the mood to do something. Nowadays, it is up to whether she feels like it or not, or she is tired or not. This time I got lucky, she asked me bout it and then took everything out to prepare. She said she made some before hand and there are leftovers ingredients. The only thing that I needed to do was to walk 5 minutes to the local tim chai (mini store) nearby and get some beans and extra bamboo leaves for wrapping.
So far there are many variations in making this bak chang, but to me my Lai Ma’s bak changbak chang was out and ready to be devour! All I can say is, my cravings had been answered.
Alright, the whole process is pretty tedious and seemingly complicated, but don’t feel daunted, take up the challenge and make it. As for me, my chang is much simpler, with less ingredient but nevertheless yummy. I also left out the usual salted duck egg yolks, because the selfish me do not like it.
For the recipe, I break down to few parts for easier preparation. Most of the ingredients, especially the spices and flavourings are all in estimation as, I have said, we Chinese cooked by whim, with fingers dipping in and tasting as we go. It is always a splash of this and a dash of that and some jiggling of this and some spoonfuls of that. My Lai Ma said, cooking by taste is one of Chinese secrets to good cooking, as all ingredients we use differ, our own tastes of what is salty and sweet also differ, therefore we cooks know best to tweak to our the situation and our liking.
As for the wrapping, I wish I could be a better artist to illustrate it, but oh well if you still do not understand, you can head on to Teckie to see the video of her mum wrapping the bak chang, she had also written a comprehensive detail of the preparation. Be careful bout the wrapping as either if wrongly wrapped or too loosely tied, it will leak and come unwrap, resulting in a mess that cannot be salvage. We lost one of it (must be the one I wrapped, he-he.
1 kg glutinous rice
800g – 1 kg pork
200g of pak mei tau (not too sure but I guess it is soy bean)
200g (35-40) fong lut (chestnuts) (depending how many you want to put in your dumpling, we have two for each)
8-10 Chinese dried mushrooms (or 16-20 small ones)
Handful of har mai (dried shrimps)
Handful of minced garlic
Additional fillings (I did not add):
Salted duck egg yolk
Hou see (dried oyster)
Lap cheong (dried Chinese sausage)
20 bamboo leaves
8-10 ham choong chou (literally the dumpling weed plant. You can use any string here)
Marinate for pork (in estimation):
2-3 tbsp of five spice powder
Pinch of ajinomoto (I wouldn’t want this but my Lai Ma insists)
Pinches of salt
2-3 tbsp of white pepper
3-4 tbsp of oyster sauce
2-3 tbsp of dark sauce
For the frying the rice (in estimation):
3-4 tbsp of dark sauce
4-5 tbsp of soy sauce (or to taste)
6-8 tbsp of five spice powder
3-4 tbsp of pepper
5-6 tbsp of oyster sauce
Pinches of ajinomoto
Pinches of salt
For frying the fillings (in estimation):
2-3 tbsp of five spice powder
2-3 tbsp of oyster sauce
2 tbsp of pepper
3-4 tbsp of soy sauce
Day before (or in the morning):
Soak rice with water for at least 6 hrs and up to one day.
Cube the pork and marinate for 8 hrs or overnight
Few hours before cooking and wrapping:
Soak bamboo leaves in water till soft. Then gently wash with running water, wiping with cloth. Stack it up face down in a basin, and then submerge in water until use.
Boil the chestnuts and beans till half cooked.
Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water till soften, then remove stem and halved it (for big ones)
Clean the har mai a few times, running through with water
Drain the soaked glutinous rice.
Cooking the rice:
Heat up 3-4 tbsp of oil in a wok.
Throw in garlic and fried for a minute.
Then add in the glutinous rice and stir fried.
Slowly add in all the frying ingredients, tasting as you go.
Lastly, add in the soy bean, then fry and mix evenly.
Add spices if needed.
Cooking the fillings:
Heat 3 tbsp of oil in wok.
Then add in garlic and stir fry for a minute.
Add in har mai, fong lut and mushrooms.
Fried for few minutes and mix well.
As usual, add in all the fillings spices one by one and fry till evenly mix.
Add in the marinated pork and continue stir fry.
Add in water (bout quarter bowl).
Fry till dry.
Gather 5 strings together and fold it half, then tie a not to form a bundle
Then prepare a place to wrap, something like this:
Place together ingredients and leaves below it, along with spoon.
Take two leaves and overlap on each other in opposite sides, slightly slanted.
Twist in the middle and turn to shape a cone.
First line the bottom and sides with the rice and bean mix.
Then add in the fillings in the middle: ½ pork, 2 fong lut, 3 har mai and 1 mushroom
Then top loosely with rice.
Turn it upward to close up. Pull it down slightly.
Then turn in and fold the sides.
Fold the top leaves together, then turn down the side.
Now its in a triangle shape.
Tie it with ham choong chou, around the dumpling two times then knot it firmly.
Put in all the tied dumplings into a huge pot of boiling water, submerged totally in the water.
Boil it for 4-5 hrs, topping up with boiling water every hour or so.
Then take out and hang it to dry.
Peel open leaves and devour!
Make 16-20 big dumplings
(It can keep for few days in the refrigerator and weeks in the freezer)