The Duanwu Festival, also called Dragon Boat festival is upon us again. I have told myself year after year to learn the art of wrapping bak zhang (Zongzi). However, due to the distance from our very own Bak Zhang master, my Grandma (and perhaps my laziness), I was reluctant to attempt this without some form of guidance. Well thank goodness for things like YouTube, it’s now possible to learn how to wrap these babies through online tutorials. See here. If you are interested to learn the story behind this festival do click the links above.
There are many variations of these delicious rice dumplings. It’s safe to say that every family probably have their own recipe. I’ve grown up eating Grandma’s teochew version and no other type would even come close. The power of nostalgia. Sure, I could always fly back to Bintulu for these, in fact my mom will probably be bringing me some when she visits next week. But I thought it’s finally time for me to learn my Grandma’s ‘secret recipe’. And perhaps even share it here!
To be honest, I was quite intimidated by the whole process, from the prep work, all the way to the techniques of wrapping. This resulted in several anxious phone calls to Mom. Incidentally she was helping out at Grandma’s with the bak zhangs so she patiently explained everything to me. Ahh. What do we do without our moms?
So the night before, I put the Bamboo leaves to soak (they need at least 12 hours), and this step defers from my Grandma’s because she uses Pandan leaves. I couldn’t find the bigger leaves around here so I opted for the usual instead. As for the fillings, apart from the Glutinous rice I went for pork belly (she doesn’t use this), minced pork, chestnuts, shitake mushrooms and dried shrimps. I forgot the peanuts though.
As for prep work, I —
Marinated the pork belly (1 long slab, cut into bite size) and mince pork (300g) with light/dark soy sauce, shao xing wine, salt and white pepper.
Glutinous rice (1kg) was soaked overnight.
Shitake mushrooms (about 25 small ones) were soaked to rehydrated and roughly chopped
Chestnuts (one for each dumpling), well I bought the ready peeled and roasted ones so I didn’t have to do anything.
Dried shrimps (50g) were soaked and finely chopped.
Some pandan leaves, cut to 4-5cm length. They are to be inserted with the fillings to further improve the taste.
Once the ingredients were ready I started by frying the dried shrimps, shitake and minced pork together in pork lard and oil with garlic and shallots. The pork belly was cooked in a separate pan. But I combined both the leftover oil (to make the rice much more fragrant) to fry the glutinous rice with garlic, shallots. I also added white pepper, salt and light soy sauce to the rice.
I wasn’t given any measurements so I have guess-estimated everything myself. The key is to season the rice and pork well.
Then come the wrapping!! Even after watching the video instructions several times I was still struggling with the wrapping. The first few attempts were frankly, pathetic. I watched the video closely and realised that the leaves I had were a lot smaller than the ones they were using! Ok, less fillings then. I also failed miserably using the bamboo strings so I swapped over to kitchen strings instead. By the 7th attempt, the product kinda looks like a bak zhang.
The next few were slightly easier but they were ugly. Really ugly. I was close to giving up halfway but staring at all these fillings I felt that a pang of panic. So I just continued wrapping.
And some 3 hours after, I managed to wrap about 28 of them. The first 10 were already boiling as I continue my work. Once the first batch was done. I eagerly pick one out and proceed to do some product sampling.
I unwrapped this carefully, and lo and behold!
I tentatively poked at it with my fork and…..
The first bite. Well, it’s nothing short of amazing. I use the word because at the time I felt totally overwhelmed with emotions. The texture, the flavours, were quite close to how I remember it. The rice was seasoned nicely, although the pork could probably use more soy sauce or salt. Small problem if you ignore the appearance. I called mom and first thing she asked me was “怎样？可以毕业了吗？” (So, able to graduate?) and I said yes!
This was by no mean an easy process and now I have even more admiration for moms and grandmas alike to make these year after year in bulk (My grandma makes a 100 that very same day). Needless to say, I’ll be including this to my yearly repertoire, but not before I get a proper tutorial from my mom next week!
Happy Duan Wu Festival to all!