Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cantonese Zhongzi

Shanghainese zhongs. For Shanghainese zhong, see this post. Shanghainese zhongs are easier to make, requiring less ingredients. The rice doesn't need to be pre-soaked or fried but has to be marinaded for at least half an hour. The pork also doesn't need to be fried. Never leave the pork skin on for Shanghainese zhongs.

Let's take a break from my travel posts.

Last Saturday was Duanwu Jie, a day most people associate with glutinous rice dumplings called zhongzi (or zhong for short). As a kid, I was told that Duanwu Jie (meaning double five, as it always falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar) is celebrated to remember a righteous, uncorrupted advisor to a Chinese king about 2500 years ago. There are many versions of the story but no matter which version, the story is the same: righteous man was drowned/forced to drown in river and rice dumplings were thrown to the fish in the river to stop them from eating his body. For the same reason, dragon boat races evolved from villagers paddling their boats in the river and making loud noises to scare the fish away.

This is the second time that I made zhongzi (zhong for short). My first attempt was 5 years ago (how time flies!) and my son declared my zhongs not as good as my MIL's. That disappointing verdict, the awful amount of work and the fact that store-bought zhongs, at RM3.50 to RM7, are very affordable, deterred me from further attempts until last week when, after eating yet another disappointing store-bought zhong, Wey gave me the green light to make him Shanghainese zhongs. Growing up eating his Na's Shanghainese zhongs which were stuffed with big lumps of fatty pork, Wey stubbornly refuses to give any credit to zhongs not made by his Na (Shanghanese for grandma). I am more accepting and I like both Shanghainese zhongs and Cantonese zhong but if I have to choose, I'll still take Cantonese zhongs over Shanghainese, provide they are both home-made. Although Shanghainese zhongs have a wonderful aroma of soy sauce and wine, the filling is just pork whereas Cantonese zhongs have pork, nuts, beans, salted egg yolks, mushrooms and dried shrimps and a hint of 5-spice powder. My FIL defends Shanghainese zhongs and grumbles that other zhong are ''ja chi ja ba" (a jumble or mixture, in an unpleasant way).

I very nearly gave up wrapping the zhongs. I had never wrapped triangular-shaped zhongzi before and the zhong leaves were short and narrow. Rice fell out of the corners of the zhongs and the leaves tore, and I had to unwrap the zhongs again and again. I very nearly put everything in one big pan and steamed it as huge pudding but I remembered how we disliked my dad's pillow zhongs which were so big (larger than an iPad) that we had to eat it as a family and Dad would cut it and reheat it by frying, resulting in a giant plate of jumbled rice and filling. Anyway, it took me a whole day to wrap 22 triangular zhongzi, five of which leaked rice when it cooked, and 23 Shanghainese ones.

It's hard to give exact measurements because I tweaked the recipe as I worked, tasting and adding more seasoning as needed. Also, the size of the zhong can vary. I tend to make my zhongs bigger than the commercial ones. The recipe here is a guide and you should adjust it to your taste. It's never late to make zhongs. Keep them in your freezer and they can be re-boiled or steamed months later. Zhongs, like Chinese baos, are great snacks to bring on trips because you just have to unwrap them and eat them without using any utensils. At home, to keep our hands from getting oily, we use forks or spoons.

It was totally worth the effort to make these zhongs because Wey declared them the same as his Na's (he still doesn't bother with Cantonese zhongs) and he loves them so much, he eats two a day.


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The filling ingredients for Shanghainese zhongs are not fried but the filling for Cantonese zhongs are pan-fried to deepen the flavors.

Making rectangular or 'pillow' zhongs.


Rectangular 'pillow' zhongs are the easiest to wrap. Always use weed strings or thread to tie the zhongs; do not use plastic or raffia strings.

Making triangular zhongs. Here's a video on how to wrap triangular zhongs.


Cantonese zhongs

Cantonese Zhongzi (makes about 20 or more)

dried bamboo leaves, hard tips/petiole snipped off, leaves boiled about 15 minutes until softened, soaked at least 6 hours or overnight (otherwise it will give a slight bitter taste) & then washed well
weed (boiled to soften) or strings to tie (do not use raffia)

1 kg glutinous rice, picked through & soaked 2 hours and drained for 1/2 hour before using
about 800 gm belly pork with skin on, cut into 3 cm cubes*
10 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked till soft and halved, squeeze lightly to remove half the water
20 dried chestnuts, soaked and boiled 10 minutes or 1 cup black eyed beans, soaked
1/3 cup dried shrimps, washed and soaked 10 minutes only
10 salted duck egg yolks, halved using thread or wire (cuts cleaner)
20 pieces dried scallops, soaked 15 minutes to soften
1/3 cup finely chopped garlic
1/3 cup finely chopped small red onions

seasoning for pork:  
2 T light soy sauce
1/2 T dark soy sauce
1 piece red bean curd (nam yue**), mashed + 1 T sauce
dashes of white pepper
1/4 t to 1/2 salt 
1 t sugar
1 t 5-spice powder (more if like; I prefer a subtle flavor)

* you will get some lean cubes of meat so cut small pieces (about 1.5 to 2 cm cube) of fat and add them to the leaner meat.
** this is a secret ingredient revealed to me by a lady who has been making zhongs for sale for 40 years.

Note: 2 to 3 days before wrapping the zhongs, marinade the pork with the seasoning and leave in a bowl wrapped with cling film in the fridge. Turn once a day to mix well.

1. Assemble everything in front of you. Keep zhong leaves covered with a damp cloth.
2. In a heated wok, fry the dried shrimps over low heat with 1 T oil, 1 t each of garlic and onions until fragrant and dried. You can fry the dried scallops with the shrimps too, if you like a drier and more fragrant flavor and taste, but if you prefer softer scallops, do not fry ( I don't). Remove.
3. Add 1 T oil to the same wok, then add 1 t each of the garlic and onions, and the mushrooms. Add 1 t light soy sauce, a pinch of salt and 1/2 t sugar and fry about 1 minute. Remove.
4. Add 2 T oil to the same wok, add 1 T each of garlic and onions and fry the pork over medium-low heat until pork is seared all over but not cooked inside.
5. If the wok is not covered with burnt bits, do not wash. Put 2 T oil into the wok, fry 1 T each of garlic and onions and 1/4 t (or more, if like) 5-spice powder, and then add the rice. Now add 1 T light soy sauce (and dark, if you want more color), 1 t salt, a few shakes of white pepper and--this is something nobody tells you--a few shakes of msg. Fry rice over medium heat until it looks dry but not burnt, about 3 to 4 minutes. Taste one grain of rice. It should taste saltish. if not, add 1/4 to 1/2 t salt, mix well. Remove.
6. Fold two bamboo leaves into a cone, fill with 2 T rice (or 1T if using a larger spoon) and pack it firmly with the back of your spoon. Drop a piece each of mushroom, scallop, chestnut, egg yolk, pork (2 pieces if cut small) and a tsp of dried shrimps onto the rice. Top filling with 5 to 6 T rice (or half that if using large spoon), pack it again with the spoon, then wrap and tie firmly but not too tightly because the rice needs space to expand.
7. Put all the zhongs (tie them in bunches of 5 or 6 to make handling them easier) into a large pot and cover with water. Boil for 2 1/2 hours to 3 hours, longer if zhongs are very big. After an hour of boiling, taste the water. If water tastes saltish, fine. If not, add more salt to the water, wait 10 minutes, taste again. Leave the cooked zhongs in the pot, covered, for another 1/2 hour (saves cooking longer).

Zhongs are eaten hot or warm, never cold. Serve some Chinese tea, sit down and enjoy the rewarding sight of your family devouring your hard work.



Hi Terri! Just wondering if you were going to write about zhong and you did. :P

Getting it into a nice triangular shape is such a lot of work but so satisfying when you do get it right. Mine always has one side looking a little different from the others.... LOL

Michelle Chin said...

I did not get to eat any zhong... oh well. :(

I prefer the cantonese zhong over chinese one.

Ivy Ong said...

Terri My Friend.... Made some Zhongzi also but used dried oyster instead. Yours were wrapped well and neat but not mine. Well, its a once a year event, lacked practice. Your Zhongzi looked very yummy.

Happyeverafter Bride said...

I would love to try making my own one day. Am saving your post for that day. Thank you for posting.

terri@adailyobsession said...

brook:if the leaves are big enough, or the zhongs are small, the triangular shapes are ok to make. otherwise, it's a nightmare...

michelle: agree. homemade SH zhongs are good too but kinda boring for me:)

ivy: my friend...dried oysters sound awesome! next year, we swap zhongs?

bride: wow, u made a beautiful bride!

Anonymous said...

I love them!!
I always saw them in Chinese shops in Prato, but never tried them!! ..they look so good!!

Chocolate, Cookies & Candies said...

I'm so pleased you wrote about this. When I was pregnant with lil L, there wasn't much I could eat but I would stuff myself with Zhong zi. Now that we're in the UK, finding decent Zhong zi is even harder than getting a Hermes Birkin (sorry, I relate everything to handbags).

I'm going to try to make this during the long summer break. Can't wait to try this out. I've tried many recipes of yours and they've all turned out great.

مطبخ رمضان 2012 said...

thanx for your topic

Azure said...

I'm a Hongkie living in Sing. I miss those Cantonese Zhongs made by my mother. She always makes quite a lot for her sisters and friends. I also helped her out wrapping them. The ingredients we use are more or less the same as yours, just that we have layered some green beans underneath the glutinous rice and the glutinous rice is not cooked. My house would smell of boiling zhongs around the time of the festival.

In Sing, I can only find Cantonese Zhong fr Crystal Jade, a lot more expensive though.

Anonymous said...

Hi Terri,

I have been following your blog off and onn. I started to wrap my own chang since last yr, making 3 types, Canto bak chang, Nyonya sambal chang and Kan sui with red bean filling. I find triangular chang are much easier to wrap. Managed to wrapped around 90 pcs within 4 hrs. For your info, I soaked the leaves for a while and then boiled for at least 5 mins and removed fr the hot water. Then I soaked teh leaves for overnite. The leaves turned out to be very smooth and flexiable to wrap. I didn't pan fry all the ingredients. The other ingredients taht I added in was mung bean.

Lannie Loke

Unknown said...

hello...ive made the zhongzi once befor but kinda went the american way and put way to much in it.i had pork belly, chinese sweet sausage, salted duck egg,dried shrimp, mushroom, mungbean, redbean,peanuts,and of course sticky rice(and i think im forgeting a thing or two,lol)..i gave out about 40 of them to all the chinese people i know, both cantone and mandarin speaking in order to get feedback on how to better them.almost everyone said to not use the duckegg, and then had preferences of sweet and savory..im making another batch tonight with mungbean, redbean, dried shrimp,peanuts,and mushroom..and gonna put some "italian sausage marinated with fishsauce, oyster sauce' ginger, garlic and fivespice,in half the batch, browned befor putting in just for flavor research,lol..maybe its an injustice but we'll find out..i had them first time in china town, chicago and loved them. then buoght some from store that just didnt cut the mustard..my 1st 10 wrappings were pitiful but quickly got better..going from ten min to wrap one to loading and wrapping in about a minut or so..they are just so good if made right and i still havnt got it but tryn diffent technics..next to a good sweet congee with pidan and contone chicken feet..zhongzi is one of my favorite chinese foods..aiming to stock the freezer for myself this time around..

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