bak zang season
It’s been on the to-do list for years, but this year was the year – our year for bak zang. You see, it’s a lot of work making bak zang and the devil, as usual, is in the detail. Prepping the leaves, marinating the pork, soaking the mushrooms and so on, is done before even the first dumpling is wrapped, so I can see why the tradition only happens once in a while. (Well, for us anyway. For a well behaved Chinese family it’s annually. For us it’s every 5 years or so.) Also, the dumplings are meant to be eaten on during the northern summer solstice, so once that’s gone, there’s not much point to making them.
I have to admit, I was a little (okay, a lot) inspired by the TV show Poh & Co and the episode where she makes dumplings with her family. The show is pretty accurate – the first few dumplings are incredibly frustrating! Think expletives, rice everywhere and unravelling dumplings. But after the initial learning curve it becomes quite zen. Folding, stuffing, wrapping and tying – again and again.
We made about 80 dumplings stuffed with fatty pork, dried shrimp, shitake mushrooms, mung beans, dried then soaked chestnuts and salted egg yolks, which were pretty much, willy-nilly stuffed into the leaves with lightly stir fried rice. Then it’s boiled for two hours. By the way, this is the easy/lazier version. The real deal is to make a hollow in the rice, then put the ingredients in a particular order into each dumpling, so it actually does look stuffed. (This is the not-so-easy-version i.e. sadistic.)
Because everything is an estimate, it becomes a guessing game to ration everything evenly. (“Hey! Don’t put SO MUCH shrimp in! I don’t want to RUN OUT!” Then, like 15 minutes later: “HEY! Are you putting SHRIMP IN?! How come there’s so much LEFTOVER?!!” And so on.) Let’s say the last couple of dumplings are always interesting.
(A really big thank you to Mum for making the bak zang! Let’s do it again next year!)
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