For the Dumpling Festival this Saturday, Tan Bee Hong checks out a few varieties
IT was a dramatic tale of a distraught poet-minister who jumped into the river to commit suicide and villagers who loved him failed to rescue him.
That happened a long time ago in ancient China and the outcome was zong, a delicious rice dumpling. Perhaps you wonder how this came about.
The incident happened during the Warring States Period in China. Instigated by a group of treacherous ministers, the emperor of Chu became corrupted and cruel, taxing the people to pay for his pleasures.
Qu Yuan was one of the good ministers who loved the people. Unable to bear watching the people suffer, Qu advised the emperor to mend his ways but the despotic emperor became so enraged that he banished Qu. While he was in exile, the state of Qin attacked and conquered Chu. When Qu Yuan heard about this he was so devastated that he tied himself to a rock and jumped into the Mi Lo River.
When the villagers realised what had happened, they rushed to the river, beating drums and throwing rice into the river so the fish would not eat Qu. Later, Qu’s spirit appeared to the villagers in a dream, telling them to wrap and tie the rice in bamboo leaves so that his spirit too would be able to eat.
From that time, the Chinese have been making zong and holding dragon boat races to commemorate his death in 278BC.
The festival on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month is also known as Duan Wu Jie (or Tuen Ng in Cantonese) and falls on June 23 this year.
While zong is available all year round, the special ones make an appearance only at this time of the year, particularly on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
Basically, zong is a pyramid-shaped glutinous rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves. The different dialect communities have developed their own recipes for zong. Regular ingredients are dried mushroom, dried chestnut, dried shrimp, fatty pork, beans and salted egg yolk. Sometimes, dark soya sauce is added and the rice grains are fried with sliced shallots for added flavour.
Some zong are wrapped in lotus leaves. The latter are also bigger and often referred to as pillow zong.
The Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) community wrapped its very own identity into the zong by creating a sweet-savoury zong and using cow-pea flowers to partly tinted the rice a pretty blue. They also use sugar-coated winter melon and in some instances, cekur (a kind of ginger) as well as various spices.
Halal zong is stuffed with roast duck or chicken and all the other yummy stuff.
Sweet dumplings or kan sui zong may or may not have a filling (usually lotus seed paste or red bean paste) but the rice is always soaked in alkaline water to make it springy. The plain ones are usually eaten with honey, caster sugar or gula Melaka.
Here are some zong from three, restaurants on sale till saturday.
Sime Darby Convention Centre
1A Jalan Bukit Kiara 1, KL
Tel: 03-2089 3788
THIS is the first year that China Treasures is offering zong and its chefs are pretty excited to be sharing the festive dumpling with customers, both for dine-in and take-away.
There are two savoury zong that require 5½ hours of boiling: Cantonese-style dumpling with sea treasures and a Hokkien-style dumpling. The former is a walloping 1kg bundle (RM48++) wrapped in bamboo and lotus leaves.
Delicious, with all kinds of stuff inside to uncover. These include a whole abalone, dried scallops, deboned chicken thigh, lotus seeds, chestnuts, Chinese mushroom and salted egg yolk.
The 500g Hokkien-style zong (RM28++) has an almost similar stuffing but without abalone and scallops. Instead of chicken thigh, it contains chicken char xiu and has dried prawns, green peas and black eyed peas.
The zong is not well seasoned and the chef explains that it’s because people are more health-conscious these days and refrain from salty food. But the zong come with a chilli sambal and soya sauce for those who like it with a kick.
The golden dumpling with red bean paste (RM5++) is also not too sweet. But dip it in caster sugar and it tastes even better as you feel the crunch of sugar between your teeth.
One World Hotel,
Tel: 03-7681 1159
ZUAN Yuan dim sum chef Jordan Chin has created three zong. The most indulgent is the abalone herbal five grain rice dumpling (RM52++). Weighing about 800g, it’s a bundle of treasures that includes a whole abalone, roast duck, mushroom, lotus seed, dried shrimp, salted egg yolk, ginkgo nuts and chestnut.
As its name suggests, you will find five different grains — red rice, red beans, wild rice, brown rice and barley — mixed with glutinous rice.
Best of all, since the percentage of glutinous rice is low, you can indulge without feeling bloated after the meal.
Just as big in size is the Hong Kong-style rice dumpling with Chinese goose liver sausages and smoked duck (RM25++). The aroma of waxed sausages and smoked duck is dominant, coating each grain of the glutinous rice with the fragrance.
Of course, there is the ubiquitous salted egg yolk, mushroom and chestnut with lotus seed and mung bean.
I am not so keen on the sweet glutinous rice dumpling with green bean paste (RM8++) though those who prefer it less sweet will find thetaste most agreeable.
Grand Dorsett Subang
Subang Jaya, Selangor
Tel: 03-5031 6060 ext 1954
The Emperor Chinese restaurant offers three varieties of zong created by chef Ooi Li Fey. At the top of the range is the glutinous rice dumpling stuffed with roasted duck, chicken, whole dried scallop, salted egg yolk and dried mushroom. At 800g, the zong is so big it is wrapped with both bamboo leaves and lotus leaf. Priced at RM30++, it’s enough for two.
The second variety is a Cantonese-style zong, stuffed with roasted duck, dried mushroom and black-eyed peas. The rice is fried and seasoned with dark soya sauce. Weighs 250g and priced at RM15++.
For something sweet, there is a glutinous rice zong stuffed with red bean paste weighing 180g and priced at RM5++.