On Friday night, mum embarked on the annual zhang (Chinese rice dumpling) making marathon – my brother, L. and I gave her a hand (or better put, she gave us a lesson), although I’m not sure if that resulted in more or less work for her in the end, hee.
Since you do kind of need some nimble fingers and some practice to wrap a zhang properly (and learning to tuck in the ends, make a nice shape, tie them with the string… tricky!), we started out with kee zhang (made with rice soaked in lye water) to get the wrapping technique right. Since it’s kind of bland once it’s cooked (ours were unfilled), you eat this with kaya or gula melaka (palm sugar) as a sweetener.
When we got the wrapping technique down (or somewhat down), we moved on to nyonya zhang, which is a rice dumpling with a filling (alls I know is that there’s pork and winter melon in there – except mum made me some chicken filling too). The trick is to make a big and deep pocket with two leaves and to press the rice and filling tight before wrapping them up. At home, we tend to skimp on the rice and overload on the filling, resulting in huge, on-the-brink-of-explosion dumplings (just for a pictorial reference, this picture was taken just before I added another whopping spoonful of filling into the dumpling), hee.
The fun part of making zhang is also being able to customize them to your fancy. We had all sorts of variations like the brother got nyonya zhang with extra winter melon (making it sweeter), I got chicken nyonya zhangs for the weekends, A. got nyonya zhangs with chestnuts in them, the bak zhangs have extra mushrooms and chestnuts and the list goes on and on! My only regret is not making a savoury vegetarian zhang (with mushrooms and chestnuts) for the weekdays.
And this is what happens when you don’t get the tying thing quite right, the pyramid shaped dumpling becomes somewhat of a square cylinder. Tricky, I tell you.