My grandma’s bak chang / zong zi (glutinous rice dumpling)

There’s something to be said about recipes that are passed down in families. Somehow, your fondest memories of food are always what you ate growing up, and everything else that you eat later on in life is compared to those memories.

I grew up eating my grandma’s (I call her ‘Nai Nai’ 奶奶) bak chang, and this to me, has always been the best kind I can get anywhere. I’m sure everyone else will claim that their family’s version is the best though! ;)

For those of you who are not familiar with bak chang (肉粽): These babies are glutinous rice dumplings, wrapped in bamboo leaves. They’re also known as zong zi (粽子). There are many versions, including a sweet version made with alkaline water, and eaten with a sweet sauce. I haven’t had the sweet version for a good few years now, I must really learn how to make them (my grandma only makes the savoury pork ones).

They’re traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival (Duan Wu Jie 端午节), which usually falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar – which falls on the June 23rd this year.  They are eaten to commemorate the poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the Miluo river after his country’s capital (Chu state) was captured by the Qin state. The villagers then threw rice dumplings into the river, to keep the fish and evil spirits away from his body. And now, these rice dumplings are eaten every year as a way of remembering Qu Yuan. (Thank you Wiki and Wai Yee Hong for educating me.)

Anyway, I convinced my grandma to teach me how to make these bak chang during a recent trip home (is November of last year still recent?). Because I figure, I might as well start now – the wrapping takes years to perfect, and I’m not getting any younger!

I made these whilst R was at work, so unfortunately did not manage to take any step-by-step photos of the wrapping process. Next time. :) I did find a fairly good video on youtube though, which you can view here. Watch from 0.50 secs onwards for the wrapping process.

Although it took me 2.5 hours to make (excluding the cooking time) to make these, they were definitely worth it. :) Plus I now have a stash in the freezer for ‘times of need’.

A few notes:

  • All amounts are approximate. Please taste as you go along, and adjust as necessary!
  • Ingredients for the fillings (e.g. lap cheong, heh bee etc) can always be omitted if you wish to do so. There are no compulsory items when it comes to cooking this – well, except the glutinous rice that is.
  • Please place each ingredient in a separate bowl. This is because we want to place approximately equal amounts of each ingredient into each bak chang.
  • I highly recommend watching this video to get an idea of how to wrap the bak chang. Watch from 0.50 secs onwards.
Nai Nai’s bak chang
Makes approximately 19-20 
Ingredients:
  • 500g pork belly, chopped into ~ 2cm chunks
  • 1 kg glutinous rice
  • 20 dried chestnuts
  • 1 chinese rice bowl of dried shrimps (heh bee)
  • 1 chinese rice bowl of dried Chinese mushrooms – I used approximately 40 tiny ones
  • 1 Chinese sausage (lap cheong)
  • 6 salted duck eggs (we will only be using the yolks)
  • 20 shallots
For the pork belly marinade:
  • 3 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 2 tbsp five spice powder
  • 1 tsp white pepper
For the rice marinade: (approximate amounts – you may need to adjust according to taste)
  • 5 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 5 tbsp dark soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp white pepper
For wrapping:
  • at least 60 bamboo leaves (you need 2 per bak chang, with some spares in case of tears/holes in leaves)
  • cooking string/hemp leaves
Method:

The night before :

1. Soak the bamboo leaves in a large pot of cold water (I used my 28cm Le Creuset pot). Try to submerge as much of the leaves in the water as you possibly can.

2. Soak the glutinous rice in cold water.

3. Soak the chestnuts in cold water.

4. Mix all the ingredients for the pork marinade together. Pour it over the pork belly pieces, and leave to marinade overnight in the fridge.

Preparing the ingredients:

5. Cook the duck eggs in a pot of boiling water, for 10 minutes. Leave to cool sightly, peel, separating the yolk from the whites. We will only be using the yolks, so store the whites in the fridge for another use – I use them for steamed eggs, and as a condiment for porridge. Cut the yolks into quarters.

6. Soak dried shrimps in a bowl, using hot water.

7. Soak the Chinese mushrooms in a bowl, using hot water. If your mushrooms are very large you may want to slice them in half.

8. Slice the Chinese sausage into 1 cm slices.

9. Peel and finely dice the shallots. I cheat and use my mini food processor, which does the dicing in 5 seconds flat.

Cooking the ingredients:

10. Heat 1 tbsp corn oil in a large pan/wok. Using high heat, fry the Chinese sausage until they brown slightly and become fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

11. In the same pan, fry the dried shrimps until they become fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

11. In the same pan, fry the Chinese mushrooms until they become fragrant, and brown slightly. I usually season with a pinch of salt (old habits die hard). Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

12. In the same pan, fry the pre-soaked chestnuts until they brown slightly. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

13. In the same pan, fry the pork belly chunks until they turn lightly browned. We’re not aiming to fully cook the pork belly here – the aim is to sear it briefly. Remove from pan, and place in a bowl.

14. Add 1 tbsp corn oil to the same pan. Fry the shallots until they become fragrant. Add the glutinous rice flour, and stir for 1 minute. Add all the ingredients for the rice marinade, and any leftover pork marinade you have. Taste, and add extra oyster sauce/dark soya sauce etc as necessary. Switch off the flame, and leave rice in the pan. You can always transfer the rice to a bowl, but why wash an extra bowl?

Wrapping the bak chang:

15. Drain the water from the bamboo leaves. Pat the leaves dry with a cloth – it doesn’t matter if they are still slightly wet.

16. Select two leaves, and place them in opposite directions (i.e. the tail end of one lining up with the top end of the other). Do not use any leaves which already have holes in them, as they will cause water to seep into the bak chang during the cooking process.

17. Form leaves into a cone.

18. Fill the cone about 1/3 of the way with the glutinous rice.

19. Then, place each of the following atop the rice: one chunk of pork belly, one chestnut, one/two Chinese mushrooms (use two if mushrooms are small), two slices of Chinese sausage, 1/2 tsp dried shrimps, and a piece of duck egg yolk.

20. Top with more glutinous rice, till you reach the brim of the cone.

21. Fold the leaves around the pouch, and secure with cooking string/hemp leaves.

22. Repeat with remaining leaves and ingredients, until everything is used up.

Cooking the bak chang:

23. Boil water in a large pot. When the water comes to a boil, gently lower the bak chang’s into the water. Make sure the entire bak chang is submerged in water. Cover the pot with a lid, and cook over medium heat for 2-3 hours. You may find that you need two pots if yours isn’t large enough.. I had to use two!

24. To test if they are cooked through – you’ll have to unwrap one and check. And taste. (The perks of cooking.)

25. Once the bak changs are cooked, remove from the pan and place in a colander – I use a colander as it allows any extra water to drain away. Alternatively you can hang them up, but I didn’t want water to drip all over my stove!

26. Once they have cooled slightly, unwrap and eat! I strongly recommend pairing it with Maggi’s garlic chilli sauce.

Note: Uneaten bak changs can be stored in the fridge for 3-5 days, and in the freezer for 2 months.


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28 thoughts on “My grandma’s bak chang / zong zi (glutinous rice dumpling)

  1. Good Job!
    I’m still wondering should I try to make some this weekend. Did satisfy my thirst last month when I went back to SG. I also manage to practise my wrapping skill as Mum assign me for the job.

    • Thank you! Wrapping skills still need practice, hehe.
      You should make some – but I am biased as I love bak chang. Funnily enough the glutinous rice in it doesn’t make me feel ‘jilak’ at all.. though am trying to eat in moderation for fear of indigestion!

  2. I LOVED this post. I used to have one of these every afternoon after school while my grandmother was living with us. I still adore them but unfortunately my grandmother passed away and my mother said that she never learned how to make these. Perhaps I’ll give it a go with your recipe!

    • Oh I know what you mean. My maternal grandma passed away when mum was 12, so I never met her, but mum says she was a brilliant Nonya cook. I wish I could have learnt from her! Mum was too young then so never got a chance to learn either…

      Do try this if you have the time – the actual cooking/recipe bit isn’t actually that tricky, as you taste as you go along, and adjust the seasonings based on what you remember eating as a child. It’s the wrapping! :S I had a few small gaps in mine where I didn’t press down hard enough, thankfully they weren’t too large so I didn’t end up with waterlogged (or worse, exploded) bak changs!

  3. My grandma and mom made the best nonya bak chang in town. :) I have helped my mom to cut the ingredients since young but wrapping one of these takes lots of skill. I remembered I was so proud when I finally managed to wrapped one that looked decent and as good as my mom, only to find out later that I didn’t tied it tight enough and it came loose during the cooking process. LOL!

  4. They look soo beautiful, wonderful job. I miss being able to get these everywhere on Duan Wu Jie while I used to live in China. I wish I had the skills and patience to make these at home. I’m hoping my Asian grocer has some for sale Saturday… If not, maybe I’ll make some myself with your recipe!

  5. You’ve done a good job with the art of wrapping!! They look perfect!! I never tried or never even thought about attempting this daunting task of wrapping. Too technical for my current culinary skills at the moment. I’m a twenty something Penangite living in London too. Do you mind teaching me the skill? ;)

    • Thank you for your lovely comment. :) I’m sure you can make these – you made egg tarts which I’m sure are harder than these (never made the Cantonese style ones). I’m not sure how qualified I am to teach, still learning myself… lol.

      And it’s always good to meet fellow Penangites in London! Hopefully will get to meet you in person one day.

  6. I’m definitely a food lover, grew up in an Asian family and sadly though (have never liked sticky rice.) However, I just had to add that your photos are so sublime, they truly make me wish I did eat sticky rice! Stunning :)

  7. I love how the color of yours reminds me of the sweet version, but I love eating these things! My mom makes and they’re so good! :)

  8. I love learning how to make new asian dishes – I love glutinous rice but not very confident with it. Now I’ve got something to fill my freezer with though :)

  9. I am very amazed by your ability to make these. I reckon I will have to give it a shot just so I know how to make it. Thanks for sharing the recipe! I really love ba zhang and having lived away from Asia in the last 12 years – this is probably one of my most missed item…

  10. tried the recipe and it’s so yummy. thank you for sharing. Living overseas I always missed this food. Of course I can find bak cang here in Australia but the taste never the same as the taste of bak cang the way my late grandmum used to make it. I never had a chance to learn from her, but when I found your recipe – this is the closest bak cang recipe (and not to mention the taste) to the way my grandmum used to make hers..
    Once again thank you for sharing – now I just have to keep practicing how to wrap it neatly.. :)

  11. Hello!! I love your recipe, my mom also taught me how to cook Zoung Zi, but I also try yours and your grand ma and its really tasty, thank you for sharing it!

  12. Ah, this looks so great, and I have really loved badzhang since the first time my friend gave me one that her boyfriend’s grandmother made. That one had only lap cheong inside (well, maybe the dried mushrooms too), and it was so great to me.

    I would really like to try making some this holiday season, but I can’t seem to find a recipe for a simple lap cheong filling. Would just following your recipe here for the lap cheong, mushroom, and perhaps chestnut parts be a good filling, you think? Or do you think it would be bland without the savory slightly marinated pork belly?

    • Hi Nicholas, I think it would be fine without the pork belly – the rice itself is flavoured so it shouldn’t taste bland. At any rate, lap cheong is a fantastic source of flavour so you can’t really go wrong there!

  13. Pingback: Homemade Savoury Rice Dumpling (Bak Chang) – West London | junk4lunch

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