Secrets of the Dragon Boat Festival rice dumpling revealed

Secrets of the Dragon Boat Festival rice dumpling revealed

A Hong Kong expert divulges the how-tos of a lip-smacking rice dumpling for the Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon boat dumplings, pyramidal leaf-wrapped packages filled with glutinous rice, meat, beans, salty egg yolks, and other exciting things. Mrs. Lui is a vendor at the Shek Kip Mei Estate market who makes rice dumplings and other sweet and savory snacks. A couple of weeks before the Dragon Boat Festival during the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, Lui makes over 300 rice dumplings a day. These treats are traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival. Here, Lui teaches us how to make them.

Mrs. Lui has been a cooked food stall owner in Kowloon for over 30 years. She followed in her father’s footsteps and learned rice dumpling recipes from her father.

Rice dumpling business is brisk in the week leading up to the dragon boat festival. She will often sell over 300 a day during the festival period. Many of her loyal customers have bought her rice dumplings for decades.

Some new customers need to be taught how to store and reheat the rice dumplings. “Never put the rice dumplings in a sealed bag or box. The flavors will go off quicker," she says. The rice dumpling needs fresh air to breathe. Also if refrigerated the rice dumplings can last up to two weeks. Don’t freeze them as this will also make them lose flavor. You can steam or boil them; steaming will take longer but tastes better than boiling.

The rice dumplings are wrapped with steamed bamboo leaves and reed.

While rice dumplings are eaten throughout China, Mrs. Lui sticks with the traditional Guangdong recipe. She uses salted duck eggs (bottom), marinated pork belly (right) and glutinous rice with red beans (top).

To wrap a rice dumpling, take two steamed bamboo leaves and put them on top of one another. Fold them inwards to create a pocket.

Fill with uncooked glutinous rice and other beans or peanuts. Place on top a piece of raw marinated pork belly and a salted duck egg yolk. The pork belly is marinated with Chinese five spice, soy sauce and sesame oil. The fat from the pork belly and the fragrance of duck egg yolk will permeate the whole rice dumpling.

Place more glutinous rice on top of the pork belly and duck egg yolk until the bamboo wrap is full and cannot hold any more.

“I don’t like the more modern recipes with chestnuts, mushrooms, seafood and other exotic ingredients. My customers prefer the traditional rice dumpling fillings and the ingredients I use can also keep longer.” At HK$10 per rice dumpling the price is affordable and many customers buy them by the dozen for their family and friends.

Fold the bamboo wrap over the rice filling creating a small pyramid shaped packet. Rice dumplings are wrapped a day before sale and cooked for two-and-a-half hours before being sold at room temperature.

Each rice dumpling weighs about 300 grams prior to cooking so it is definitely a filling snack or even a meal for some.

Mrs. Lui works alone in her stall. She does not want her children to run the stall with her when they grow up as it is hard work and she preferred that they study and got better-paid jobs. She does acknowledge that as her generation approaches retirement, the days of the traditional homemade rice dumplings will disappear from the local wet markets.

(Article originally published June 2010. Updated June 2012)

Derrick Chang is a Canadian photojournalist based in Hong Kong. His work has appeared in Time, the New York Times, CNNGo, Huffington Post, and other Asian media outlets. He enjoys hiking from one mountain village to another, waiting for the golden light and dining on street food.

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