Much ado about zongzi

  • Nation
  • Friday, 07 Jun 2019

Nyonya dumpling made by Teo Swatt Neo, 79, in Bukit Beruang, Malacca.

KUALA LUMPUR: People are questioning whether spicy shrimp rice dumplings or zongzi can be considered a Nyonya delicacy, as claimed by sellers.

On social media, some are commenting on photos of Nyonya dumplings and asking if the filling was savoury-sweet or spicy.

Nyonya dumpling lovers are stumped to hear of any other filling than the traditional one of glutinous rice, diced pork belly, preserved winter melon and shiitake mushroom. They considered the shrimp variation a betrayal of their one true love.

One said the name “Nyonya” was used because it sells.

“My Nyonya friend told me that the spicy shrimp is not Nyonya. Her ancestors would not have approved,” said a Nyonya zongzi lover. Hokkiens and Nyonya call the zongzi chang.

The traditional Nyonya dumpling, made by the Peranakan in Melaka and Penang, has an enticing savoury-sweet flavour and is different from the savoury meaty zongzi.

Persatuan Perakanan Baba Nyonya Kuala Lumpur and Selangor president Cedric Tan said there is only one type of traditional Nyonya dumpling, and it’s made of diced pork belly, preserved winter melon and shiitake mushroom.

“The spicy shrimp chang is not a Nyonya dumpling,” he said.

Apart from the savoury-sweet Nyonya dumpling, Tan said the Peranakan in Melaka also eat kuih chang abu (plain alkaline dumplings), which are offered for prayers during the Dumpling Festival.

Kuih chang abu is eaten with gula Melaka syrup, kaya or plain sugar, he added.

With commercialisation, people may have introduced the spicy shrimp dumpling but they should not be considered traditional Nyonya chang, he said.

A Baba bank officer in Melaka, Raymond Mah, 47, said he had never heard of a spicy shrimp dumpling. His grandmother and mother have always only made savoury-sweet Nyonya and plain dumplings..

Lecturer Dr Tong Woei Yenn, 33, who grew up in Penang with his Nyonya grandmother, said she has also never known of spicy shrimp dumplings.

“In my parents’ time, the savoury-sweet dumpling was known as pnuah kiam tee, but it was later known as Nyonya dumpling,” he said.

Tong said the difference between Penang and Melaka Nyonya dumpling is that the former has cekur root and its rice is not dyed blue.

State Chinese Penang Association publicity, documentation and bulletin chairman Lily Wong said since most Nyonya households are Hokkiens, some will also make savoury dumplings.

Wong said she used some dried shrimps in her savoury zongzi but never as the sole ingredient in her dumplings.

Her grandmother adhered strictly to cooking traditions and she had never used dried shrimps in her Nyonya dumplings.

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