Dumpling Indulgence

Wuan brought some bak chang (glutinous rice dumplings) that she bought from Petaling Street when she came yesterday. Among them was a huge dumpling wrapped in lotus and bamboo leaves that costs RM8.00. We had it for afternoon tea just now. It was not as nice as we had expected and certainly not worth its price. There was a piece of belly pork, chestnut, two small cuts of shitake mushroom and one dried oyster inside, wrapped in a layer of green beans and then a layer of glutinous rice. I should not have eaten such heavy food as I have just recovered from two bouts of fever recently. Glutinous rice is known to cause indigestion when consumed even in moderation. However, after starving myself for so many days, it was like heaven-sent.

On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the Chinese celebrate the Duan Wu Jie, also known as the Dragon Boat Festival or the Dumpling Festival. All across South-east Asia, dragon boat races are held to commemorate this day in long shallow boats with a dragon head at the bow. However, the legend of the dumpling goes deeper than that. In the fifth century B.C. Qu Yuan, a well-loved Chinese court official and poet committed suicide by leaping into a river to protest the corrupt state of the country. Upon hearing the news of his death, the people living nearby searched the length and depth of the river for his body in order to give him a proper burial but they were unsuccessful. In despair, they made dumplings and threw them into the river, hoping that the fishes would nibble on the dumplings instead of the body. This year, the Duan Wu Jie falls on the June 22. This festival almost always coincides with the summer solstice which is also the longest day of the year. It is believed that one can stand an egg on its end on this day.

In modern times, the meaning of the dumplings have been lost to gluttony and commercialism. I am guilty of it, too. I eat dumplings because they taste nice, and not for the inherent significance. Moreover, they are available throughout the year. Ideally, the perfect dumpling should be firm to the touch yet soft in the mouth. The soya sauce and other seasoning should be well mixed into the glutinous rice. The texture of the rice should be smooth to the tongue. It should contain a generous portion of belly pork, chestnut, dried prawns, salted egg yolk and shitake mushroom. It is the fatty portion of the pork that makes the dumplings extra delightful. Most of the ingredients are those that I should consume with restraint. I do not eat these dumplings very often and I guess indulging in it once or twice a year should be all right, I hope.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

11 thoughts on “Dumpling Indulgence”

  1. Man, the third looks good enough to eat! Am also guilty of eating bak chang just because they taste nice and not because of its significance 😛

  2. i’m sure almost all of us (near 100% anyway) eat bak chang for its taste, not its significance.

    i love bak chang, the meat one and the bean one. i don’t like the one they call ‘tee chang’ where you dipped with soya sauce? or sugar? to eat. i must have my bak chang very hot. no hot, i no eat.

  3. Hey, Peter. I am happy to know that you are well again. At least, you are well enough to eat zhong zi and to make this entry here.

    Don’t worry, one small little zhong zi won’t cause serious indigestion. I had 3 at one go on Sunday afternoon, and I still feel fine now. Haha. I love them very much, and I started to drool as I read your description of the ingredients inside the dumplings.

    Now, if you would excuse me, I have to go to the fridge and get one out to heat up for my supper. 🙂 Whether we eat it to celebrate the cultural significance of the festival or just for the taste of these great dumplings….Happy Duan Wu Jie, Peter & Wuan!

  4. Ah, I’ve been stuffing myself with “chung” (bak chang in cantonese I think) this past weekend. It’s really yummy but personally, I dislike the egg and the fatty bits. The rice itself is always the best bit for me.

    While it’s good to indulge every once in a while, do take care of what you eat Peter 🙂 On the other hand, who could resist a “chung” when you see them being sold everywhere eh? I certainly couldn’t 😉

  5. Hi Peter

    Glad to know ur okz 🙂 Did u have a urinary tract

    The food looks yucky,no offence

    Anyway wish you a gr8 week n tcz

  6. I love bak chang…they are the best food ever! I only eat them once a year although I do know they are available all year round now. I eat the ones that are home made by a family friend’s mother. Hers is the best I ever tasted.
    When I was younger..I used to take out the water chestnut because it tasted weird with a weird texture. But now I love it to bits!!
    I also force my mum to tell me the story of the scholar Chu Yuan every year…I simply love the story until this very day…21 yrs later after I heard my first Chu Yuan story 😛

  7. I apologise that I have been unable to reply to your comments to this entry. As you all would have already known, Wuan and I went on a little adventure discovering the history that made Penang so colourful. It was real fun bumming around with Wuan all over the place. She was as curious as a kitty and we tried to cover as much as we could. Now, here are the replies:

    Too much of anything will make it taste half as good.

    Looked good to eat but did not tate as nice as it looked. There simply was not enough of the filling to go with the rice.

    I like mine piping hot too. That is when the aroma is at its best.

    Chee Wai,
    Actually, I have not fully recovered yet but the sight of the dumpling was just too much to bear.Happy belated Duan Wu Jie to you, too.

    Thanks for the advice. I eat dumplings only once in a blue moon. I guess that should be all right kua! I do not like the yolk too but I want one with a generous portion of the fat. That makes the rice smooth and palatable. Of course, that is bad for health. Why are the nice things always bad for health?

    Luckily it was not a UTI. I have been doing intermittent catheterisation for more than ten years and I caught an infection only once. Thank God for that. I cannot afford to get UTI as the bugs in my body are resistant to all but the strongest antibiotics. That is bad news for me. The food may look yucky but the good ones reallt taste nice. Maybe you an get one in Chinatown and try? I assure you it is world apart from the pungence of durians.


    Now that you know the story of the scholar Qu Yuan by heart, perhaps you can share with us the story in your blog?

  8. Hi, the food bit makes me crave chinese/malaysian food. You will need to keep Malaysians abroad like myself going with more features on food. My favourite is “Kee Chang”, the small one that you eat with honey/sugar. Must be atleast 12 years since my last one. Take care and all the best.

  9. Desmond,
    I will try but I am not exactly the refined gourmet like some of the food critics out there. I like “kee chang” too. It is best eaten with Gula Melaka.

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