Rice Dumplings wrapped in Bamboo Leaves

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Today Chinese people all over the world celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival or “Duan Wu Jie”( 端午節) by eating a pyramid-shaped rice dumpling (called zongzi) and watching dragon boat races. There are several stories about the origin of this festival and the most common one is about an outstanding poet and politician called Qu Yuan from the State of Chu in China during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) who dedicated his whole life to assist the king to make the state of Chu stronger. He was slandered by jealous officials, dismissed by the king and exiled. During his exile, he wrote a lot of poems describing his love for his country and these poems have endured to the present day in China. In 278 BC the state of Qin conquered Chu. Overcome by melancholy on hearing about the State of Chu’s defeat, Qu Yuan jumped into the river and drowned. When the local people heard about it, they rowed their boats out to the river in search of him to no avail. Then they threw rice dumplings called zongzi (粽子) into the river to feed the fish so that the fish would not eat Qu Yuan’s body. Every year on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar,  Chinese people celebrate this festival by holding noisy and high-spirited dragon boat races, getting together for family reunion dinners and eating zongzi. This annual festival is celebrated by Chinese communities in places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and even in New York and London.

Many years ago, families made their own zongzi but nowadays people buy them from davthe market or from Chinese restaurants. A few years ago, my Hong Kong friend Teresa showed me how to make zongzi. It is takes a bit of practice to make a perfectly-shaped zongzi.  The filling can be savory or sweet. There are many regional variances of the zongzi. For example, a Taiwanese zongzi has different fillings from a Hong Kong Cantonese zongzi or a Singapore Peranakan zongzi. A savory Cantonese zongzi may contain pork, duck meat, salted egg, mushrooms and scallops. The filling inside a sweet zongzi is typically sweetened red bean paste.

Below is the recipe for making a Cantonese savory zongzi (makes about 10).

Ingredients:

3 cups glutinous rice – soaked overnight
2 cups green beans
200 g fatty pork – cooked with a bit of salt or oyster sauce and cut into small pieces
10 salted egg yolks – cooked
5 dried scallops – soaked in water overnight
¼ roast duck meat – cut into small pieces
½ cup dried shrimp – soaked in water overnight, fried lightly to cook it
10 dried shiitake mushrooms – washed and soaked overnight, then braised and cooked in oyster sauce
½ cup soft boiled peanuts
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Bamboo leaves for wrapping

Method:

  1. Wash the beans.
  2. Mix together rice, beans, salt and sugar.
  3. Wash the bamboo leaves. Soak the leaves in water for 10 mins to soften them.
  4. Place two leaves horizontally side by side, with the rib facing upwards, leave about half an inch of overlap between them.
  5. To make one zongzi, fold the pair of overlapping leaves into a cone. Fill the cone with a spoonful of rice and bean mixture.
  6. Place a small piece of pork, an egg yolk, scallops, roast duck, shiitake mushroom, peanuts and some dried shrimp.
  7. Cover the filling with more rice and bean mixture.
  8. Cover the top of the cone with 1 or 2 more leaves and fold the leaves over to make a pyramid shape. Fold the leaves back over the base by flipping the ends towards the pointy part of the cone. Secure it by typing a string over the pyramid.
  9. Repeat steps 5 – 8 to make more zongzi until all the rice and bean mixture is used up.
  10. Boil all the zongzi in a big pot of water for 2-3 hours, always keeping all the zongzi completely covered in water during the boiling process.
  11. Drain the water, cool the zongzi completely before you store them in the fridge or freezer.
  12. When you want to eat a zongzi from the fridge or freezer, you need to boil them again for 10-15 mins until the inside filling is hot. The zongzi should feel soft when it is done.

Moved To Taiwan!

Sorry for the long hiatus. Moving is never fun. Moving to a new home is stressful. Moving to a new country is exciting and intimidating at the same time. We spent many weeks sorting our stuff and deciding what we have to give away or sell or donate to charity. Deciding what to give up is the most painful, packing them into the moving boxes is really the easy part.  I am so glad all that is behind me.

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Taipei 101

And, now we are in Taiwan!  A country I had never lived in before and from what I had heard, EVERYTHING is in Chinese! Oh dear! Why didn’t I try harder at my Chinese lessons when I was younger?  Before I got on the plane to get to Taiwan, I promised myself that this is going to be a wonderful adventure.

Indeed, Taiwan turned out to be a marvelous surprise.  The people are really friendly and warm, the city an interesting mix of old and new buildings. There are so many beautiful places and green spaces in Taipei.

 

The best part is the food – the most amazing beef noodle shops in humble surroundings, exquisite Japanese restaurants in zen-like gardens and stalls selling snacks and cooked food everywhere you look – on the streets, in the night markets, down alleyways and in shopping malls.

The coffee shop culture is alive and well here. Taiwanese people are known for their friendliness and nowhere is this more apparent in its surprisingly unique cafes.  I think the people here live for the craft of a good brew be it coffee or tea.

The food scene here is surprisingly vibrant – I’ve come across bakeries selling sweet buns and beautiful cakes (pic 1) to crusty French artisanal breads, cheap and good Chinese vegetarian stalls outside Buddhist temples, beautifully plated western food to fancy imperial-styled vegetarian fine dining with superb service fit for an emperor … all at amazingly reasonable prices compared to New York, Hong Kong or Singapore.  I’ve also been able to savor one-of-a-kind local Penghu Island delights like the cactus ice cream (pic 2) – sweet, tart and very refeshing.

 

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There are modern supermarkets and there are the traditional street markets where some of the vendors change daily.  In the street markets I can find a multitude of locally grown, fresh vegetables and fruits – both cheap and delicious!  I have come across seasonal vegetables like fresh water rice shoots (pic 1),  fresh wasabi root (pic 3 ) and fruits like the beautiful and fragrant Lala Shan peach and the Yu He Bao lychee (pic 2) that just explodes with sweetness.

 

What’s there not to love about Taiwan?  It is a well-kept secret, a heaven on earth – a place richly blessed with friendly people, beautiful scenery and great food!

 

Chinese New Year’s eve in Singapore

Today’s the eve of the lunar new year. Many shops and offices are closed at midday. Everyone is excited about having a long weekend of visiting relatives, feasting and relaxing.

In the run-up to this festival, most Chinese families would have done their spring cleaning, bought new clothes, stocked up on their favorite new year snacks (my favorite part of CNY!), stood in long lines at the bank to get crisp new bank notes (not my favorite part), filled red packets with lucky money to be given out to the little ones, bought auspicious kumquat plants or sprigs of plum blossoms to decorate their homes and labored over the stove preparing the reunion dinner for tonight. Phew, that’s a lot of work!

Luckily,this evening, I didn’t have to cook dinner so, on the spur of the moment, we decided to go check out the fantastic horsey decorations and soak in the atmosphere in Chinatown.

Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous Year of the Horse!

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