Dumplings with a personal touch

The vegetarian bak chang consists of multi-grain rice, glutinous rice, brown rice as well as assortment of mushroom, salted egg yolk and black- eyed peas.

The vegetarian bak chang consists of multi-grain rice, glutinous rice, brown rice as well as assortment of mushroom, salted egg yolk and black- eyed peas.

AS THE Duanwu festival approaches, many people are reliving the tradition of making their own bak chang (glutinous rice meat dumpling).

Some stick to traditional flavours of the glutinous rice dumplings, while others have come up with new taste combinations.

John Lee crafted his own vegetarian dumpling recipe after several attempts to perfect its taste.

“I used to make traditional bak chang but after turning vegetarian 10 years ago, I started to make my own vegetarian dumpling.

“It takes a while for me to explore different combinations and find the right mix of ingredients.

“I have been doing this every year and customers, whether vegetarian or not, love it. I also distribute some to vegetarian restaurants to sell,” he said.

Trader Chong Yoke Yean, 44, selling traditional glutinous rice dumpling at Petaling Street.
Chong selling traditional glutinous rice dumpling in Petaling Street.

Using fine multi-grain rice mixed with glutinous and brown rice, the ingredients for the filling consist of mushrooms, chestnuts as well as salted egg, which is an added option.

Lee, who is a hairstylist, said she would, after returning from work, occasionally help her maid to wrap the dumplings at night.

“I always like to share delicious food with others and that is why I make dumplings every year.

“Sometimes, I also make dumplings for charity sale for temples and charitable organisations. I feel it is a blessing doing it for charity,” he said.

A family affair

Every year without fail, Wendy Yap makes “pillow” dumplings and Nyonya dumplings for her family and relatives.

Picking up the skill from her mother, who is a Peranakan Chinese, Yap would wrap dumplings according to her family’s liking.

“We can add whatever ingredients we like, plus making your own dumplings is healthier and clean.

“However, it is sad that the dumpling making practice is difficult to pass down to the Gen-Y as they are not interested in learning the skill,” she said.

Yap said she makes two versions of Nyonya dumplings, one spicy and the other, sweet.

“The sweet Nyonya dumplings are considered traditional dumplings but some people do not like the taste.

“I use cubed pork meat, mushroom as well as candied winter melon as the filling as well as coriander for taste. The blue coloured shades on the dumpling is made of the natural colouring from the blue pea flower soaked in warm water,” she said.

John Lee, 51, showing off his vegetarian bak zhang.
Lee with his vegetarian bak chang.

As for the spicy one, the filling is a mixture of galangal, garlic, onion, lemongrass, curry and chilli powder as well as dried shrimps.

“The process of making it is difficult but seeing everyone enjoying the dumplings makes it worthwhile,” she said.

Keeping the tradition

Petaling Street trader Chong Yoke Yean, 44, has been selling rice dumplings for more than 20 years.

She sells Cantonese, Nyonya and alkaline varieties, such as ham yuk zhong (salty meat dumpling), ga liu chao mai zhong (dumpling with extra ingredients), dan wong guo jeng zhong (single salted egg yolk dumpling) and gan shui dao sa zhong (alkaline dumpling with red bean paste).

Chong said her grandfather-in-law opened the stall in the 1960s and she helps to manage it now.

Wendy Yap (right) is teaching her daughter Elissa Ng how to make a pillow dumpling.
Yap (right) teaching her daughter, Elissa Ng how to tie a ‘pillow’ dumpling.

“Most people still prefer traditional dumplings over modern ones with unique ingredients.

“Regulars and tourists alike will look for the dumplings despite the market still being slow two weeks again.

“The market will slowly start picking up this week,” she said.