Sunday, 8 June 2008

Duan Wu Jie( Rice Dumpling Festival) - A tribute to a special poet

Every fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar chinese calender marks as Duan Wu Jie to remember the death of a chinese patriot by the name of Qu Yuan . There were several versions of legends and stories that indicate Duan Wu has existed way before Qu Yuan's death, the tradition still carries on. Most importantly for me is that on this day , I am able to savour this once a year delicacy commonly as CHUNG !!!

Qu Yuan

Duan Wu Jie is a widely celebrated festival amongst the Chinese, to pay respect to the patriotic poet, Qu Yuan . The legend involves a really long and complicated throne-fighting war and political history. But to make a long story short: Qu Yuan was an important minister back in Chu Kingdom in ancient China. He had been known for his loyalty for the emperor of Chu, and loved his country greatly. However, His Majesty had not taken Qu Yuan's advice seriously, and he eventually got himself trapped and captured in a foreign land by his enemies, which then lead to his own death.

Sad and angry at the corrupted, dying Kingdom, Qu Yuan tied himself to a big rock and threw himself into the River of Puo Luo. The people then made rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and threw them into the river. They believed this would stop the fish from eating Qu Yuan's body. Some would even row down stream in a boat, beating drums and shouting out loud in the hope to scare the fish away (it was believed that it is how the Dragon Boat event is related to the festival.

Another popular version is that, the festival pays respect to court official and poet Qu Yuan, who stood up to the corrupt Chu government in ancient China. Unfortunately the patriotic statesman was wrongfully accused of treason. Later upon hearing that the present government was defeated by the Qin Kingdom, Qu Yuan, in despair drowned himself in a river.

People who came to know of this selfless act made dumplings and threw it into the river to appease the poet’s spirit. And the practices still last till today, and we are bestowed with such a delicacy !!

Itis a traditional delicacy that has been around for centuries but over the years the art of making yuk-chung (Chinese meat dumping) is said to be dying. The art of making this dish is handed down from generations. Fewer people from the younger generation, including housewives are unfamiliar with the preparation of this delicious dumpling, preferring to buy them instead. And this includes yours faithfully's family !! We hasnt had this practice of making our own chung since my grandmother death 20 years ago.

The Chung making process

To make the yuk-chung, five basic ingredients namely stir-fried and seasoned mung beans, chestnut, salted egg yolk, dried mushroom and pork are used. This are then wrapped in special bamboo leaves, normally imported from China. But modern businessman nowadays has created variety of chungs from the humble plain 'kan sui ' commonly eaten with sugar or plain kaya to some ultra luxury which consist of luxury ingredients like dried scallops, dried oysters , abalone and even pate !!

For me..nothing beats a traditional Bak Chang ( Ham Yuk Chung ) filled with dried shrimps , mung beans , salted egg , dried black mushroom , water chessnuts and a piece of fatty pork belly , eaten steaming hot with a dash of Maggi Chilli Sauce !!

The binding process

The art of stuffing and binding the dumplings, is a meticulous process. The most important part in chung making is actually not the stuffing, but the binding part. Too loose the rice would fall out during boiling, too tight it would burst as the dumpling would expand during the boiling process !! The completed dumplings are then simmered for six to seven hours before it is hung to dry.

Click here for a complete step by step guide of Bak Chang making.

Warning : Do not overeat this delicacy . I once downed 3 helpings at one go,and ended up blurping and suffering from indigestion for the rest of the night . Best to go with some really hot chinese pu-ergh tea !!


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