Chinese Rice Dumplings: Zongzi (粽子) or "Bakchang"

Zongzi (Chinese: 粽子) is a Chinese glutinous rice dumpling containing different types of filling and wrapped in fragrant bamboo leaves. In Singapore and Malaysia, it goes by the Hokkien-influenced moniker bakchang. In Hong Kong, it’s known as zong (pronounced “ch-oe-hng”).

The “bakchang” is also part of the Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwu Festival/端午节 or, as it’s known in Hong Kong: Tuen Ng/端午節) tradition to pay homage to the Zhou Dynasty minister and poet, Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BCE), who drowned himself in the Miluo River (current-day Hubei province) in protest of his innocence when he was accused of being a traitor by his state’s conniving Prime Minister. According to legend, the villagers, who admired Qu Yuan’s reputation for righteousness and patriotism, made rice dumplings to throw into the river as an offering to the soul of the departed minister-poet, and also to lure the fishes away from his body. That was the origin of the Dragon Boat Festival, which the Chinese still observe to this day, with dragon boat races and offerings of rice dumplings to the gods, as well as distribution to relatives and friends.

My fave type of “bakchang” is the Hokkien version, where the glutinous rice is tinted dark-brown from the use of dark soysauce, and flavoured with Chinese 5-spice. The filling usually consists of fatty pork belly, salted duck’s egg yolk, chestnuts, dried shrimps, and shitake mushroom. There will be variations where, in addition to the ingredients described earlier, you also get mashed mung beans (Cantonese-influenced), mashed yam (in Thailand, with Taechiu/Chiuchow/Chaozhou influence) and candied wintermelon (the sweet-savoury “Nyonya bakchang” from Malacca). There are also luxury versions, popularised by upmarket restaurants and hotel-based F&B outlets in recent years, with the addition of pieces of roast duck or even abalone - but these are not traditional.

  1. The best bakchang I’d ever tasted in Malaysia is undoubtedly from Guan Kee in Ipoh, Perak state - 2 hours’ drive north from Kuala Lumpur, or 2 hour’s drive south if you start your journey from Penang. Guan Kee’s version contained braised pork belly, dried shrimps, salted duck’s eggyolk, chestnut, and shitake mushroom (the sort with a flat rim, and not too spongey in texture). The glutinous rice here is not too tightly packed, and has a loose wonderful texture, only just holding together. The flavourings are pretty subtle - soysauce, oyster sauce, 5-spice, Shaoxing wine.
    Guan Kee’s bakchang:
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  1. The best bakchang I had in Penang is from an itinerant stall along Solok Moulmein in Pulau Tikus. The hawker sells his wares from 12 noon till everything runs out, usually by tea-time, 4 times a week: Tue, Wed, Fri & Sat.

  1. The best bakchang I’d ever tasted in Singapore is from Hoo Kee at Amoy Street Food Centre.

P.S. - I’ve tried “bakchang”/zongzi in Hong Kong, Taipei, Kaohsiung, Shanghai and Beijing, but didn’t like any of those - the search goes on. I had a good one in Bangkok at a restaurant in Chaeng Wattana, but didn’t get the address - will need to go back and hunt for it again.

Address details
In Ipoh:
Guan Kee
Restoran Ipoh Central
51-53 Jalan Raja Ekram
30250 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Tel: +6019 5571107

In Penang:
Tong Sui & Bakchang stall
Solok Moulmein (in alleyway behind Swee Kong Cafe)
Pulau Tikus,10450 Penang, Malaysia

In Singapore:
Hoo Kee Rice Dumpling
Amoy Street Food Centre #01-18
7 Maxwell Road, Singapore 069111
Tel: +65 62211155

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Sumptuous photos, yet again!

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Thanks!

Is a chicken version wrapped in lotus leaf or steamed in a metal bowl and unmolded and served inverted on a plate also offered at these places?

No, the lor mai kai (Chinese: 糯米鸡) is regarded as part of a dim sum spread, and so will not be sold by a zongzi vendor.

They all look good but #1 makes me drool!

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Seems most people don’t have a problem with the texture. I had tried, countless times. It’s not them, it’s me. I’m sensitive to the texture. Same with tapioca dough pastries, balls in syrup, tapioca balls, and mochi.

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That’s specialization ! Tamale shops aren’t so focused, in spite of similar concept.

Oh yes, tamales - it is so similar to Chinese zongzi, especially the Cantonese-type with mashed mung bean-filling, that I fell in love with tamales the very first time I tasted it long, long ago. I used to spend an inordinate amount of time in Oakland, California, in my previous job as a shipping company director: 40% of my time each year, away from my home in Singapore, for years. I used to look out for a tamales food truck which comes to the Old Oakland famers’ market each Friday and buy a bunch for the weekend. I’d also go to the Mission District, where I can get Guatemalan tamales, where the texture is much, much softer than Mexican ones which I used as a benchmark. Then, you get the Peruvian ones, which are so firm to the bite.

Tamales from the All-Star Tamales food truck at the Old Oakland Farmers Market.

Guatemalan tamales from Acaxutla, Mission District:

I think Chinese food culture is pretty similar to the Japanese one in that a food purveyor will usually only concentrate on one specific product - so, if you look at Chinese hawker stalls, for example, in Singapore or Penang , you go to a hawker centre and you see a laksa stall, a fried carrot cake stall, a nasi lemak stall, etc. - similar to Japan, where you have a tempura-ya, sushi-ya, ramen-ya, etc.

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A sad day that might have escaped your attention:

Ah, thanks for the heads-up. That is sad news indeed.

My personal go-to Mexican spot in Old Oakland had always been Tamarindo. I have a soft spot for Oakland, and I always feel a dull ache in my heart whenever I hear of the loss of an old eatery there.

I am luke warm with savoury zongzi, I especially dislike the (overcooked) chestnut and the fat (usually tasteless). (I suspect that I didn’t come across good ones too.) I like it plain, or sweet one with mung beans. LOL I like better lor mai kai.

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Didn’t know they were bamboo leaves, I never saw a bamboo with leaves that big though. LOL.

Chinese zongzi’s flavours vary significantly across regions. I remembered back in 2000 when i came across a zongzi stand in Wangfuqing, Beijing’s main retail/commercial thoroughfare. I had been in Beijing for 6 weeks already at the time, and missed food back in Singapore terribly. Beijing’s zongzi, on the outside, looked exactly like the Hokkien bakchangs we have back home, so I bought one each of the 4 varieties available. I unwrapped one, took a bite, spat it out (as the taste was really awful) and threw it away. Tried the other 3, and had to throw all those away as well!! It was a valuable lesson for me - zongzi is one of my favourite Chinese snacks of all time, but I found the Beijing ones literally inedible!

Thanks for the tips, I am not that aware for that big regional variations. Good reason to try them out everywhere.

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Not kidding my tummy just growled reading this!! There used to be a street vendor in nyc chinatown who sold these, many different kinds including one vegetarian version (i’m veg) that had some combination with peanuts and chestnut and some kind of soft bean? Maybe root vegetable? The rice was plain glutinous rice, i would add a little soy sauce when eating it. Really fantastic, and unfortunately not easy to find other veg versions.

I love anything with that sticky glutinous rice as well as those steamed rice rolls, various rice flour based pastries…

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Jalisco is still doing big trade in carnitas the three days of the week it opens.

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Tamarindo is still doing well.

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Ooh, great news! :heart:

Another variant of the Chinese zongzi (粽子) is the Nyonya kueh chang, indigenous to the 3 former British Straits Settlement colonies of Singapore, Malacca and Penang.

The main difference between the Nyonya rice dumpling and its Chinese counterpart is in its sweet-savoury filling, where chopped candied melon is added to the spiced pork belly, together with chopped/sauteed shallots, garlic, aniseed and coriander.

The best commercially-available Nyonya kueh chang in Singapore, and my personal favourite for over 3 decades, is from Kim Choo Kueh Chang in Katong, Singapore.

Nyonya kueh chang are usually white in colour in Singapore and Penang, as the Nyonyas do not add soysauce or dark soysauce into their rice dumplings the way the Chinese do. In Malacca, they used the natural colours from the bunga telang (clitoria ternatea) flower blooms to tinge the glutinous rice blue. The Nyonyas do not add salted eggyolk or chestnuts into their rice dumplings.

Address
Kim Choo (East Coast Road/Katong branch)
109 / 111East Coast Road
Singapore 428801

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