Home-made rice dumplings turn city into a glutinous paradise

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am

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Tuen Ng might only be the Dragon Boat Festival for some, but for most it means jung or glutinous rice dumplings.

Wrapped in bamboo leaves, jung (zongzi in Putonghua) can be bought all year round. While some families still go through the laborious process of wrapping their own dumplings come festival time for ritual gift exchange, giving out coupons to redeem at restaurants is the modern urban custom for busy Hong Kong families.

Wu Siu in Tuen Mun is in her 80s and still makes her own jung every year. An expert in jung-wrapping, she makes about 100 to pass around her neighbourhood during Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on Saturday this year. In her hometown of Kaiping in Guangdong province, the traditional filling is usually peanuts, not mung beans, and jung are made for all festive events. Her children have asked her to discontinue her massive annual production due to her advanced age, but she clearly wants to keep the tradition alive. 'Just let me make my jung,' Wu says.

Lily King Wong Lai-ying, 61, learned how to make jung from her grandmother and has been making them for 25 years. She stopped when she emigrated to Australia. 'And then the children moved out,' says Wong. 'But I still think it's important to make your own jung, as the home-made ones are definitely much healthier, without the MSG and preservatives in the commercially produced ones.' She's due back in Hong Kong this Tuen Ng and plans to make a dozen this year with her grandchildren.

The savoury Cantonese variety is shaped like a pyramid and filled with mung beans and fatty pork lightly flavoured with five-spice, while the addition of a salted duck egg yolk contributes a salty richness. Chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms and lotus seeds or peanuts may also feature.

Gwo jing (steamed parcel) jung, as the deluxe versions are known, are available at top restaurants, filled with roasted meats and abalone.

They are originally from Siu Hing, a city in Guangdong, and are prepared and consumed during the Lunar New Year there as well.

Perhaps to combat the oppressive summer heat, southerners also have gaan seui (alkaline water) jung. This dumpling has a crisp, chewy texture, unlike any other sticky rice dish, which tends to be stodgy. Glutinous rice is first cured with a lye solution (traditionally made with ash strained in water). Lye is used to treat a variety of food from different cultures - including pretzels and green olives - and is what gives Japanese ramen and Cantonese noodles their yellow tint and distinctive bite.

When glutinous rice is bathed in an alkaline solution overnight, it turns powdery, and the resulting jung becomes an amber pyramid. Dipped in sugar or syrup, gaan seui jung can be unfilled or stuffed with a sweet red bean or lotus seed puree.