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Tham Jiak: Exploring My Origin: Bak Chang
Tham Jiak means in some way "love to eat" in Hokkien. I am a Malaysian Hokkien and truly love to eat.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Exploring My Origin: Bak Chang

I am back in my hometown for the weekdays and I had gotten myself busy with, yes you guess it, cooking! Well, I know I’m pretty late but since I only got back last two days, I pestered my Lai Ma (nanny) into making bak chang with me.

Bak chang is actually Chinese meat dumpling that is usually made during the Duan Wu festival. As all Chinese festivals, this one too has a legend behind it. This day is to honor Qu Yuan, a wise minister in China who was greatly loved by common people. Due to despair of the government and the defeat of his country, he drowned himself in a river. After that people searched for him in the river with long boats, beating drums as they went and throwing dumplings into the river to feed the fishes so that they won’t eat his body. After that, on this day, fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar, it is then customary to enjoy bak chang (commonly known as zongzi) in memorial. Dumplings are made and enjoyed while dragon boat races are also held alongside, in commemoration of the initial search.

Since young, I had always enjoyed these dumplings, thought it is only quite recently that I learned of the meaning behind it. There are many types of chang (dumpling) made here in Malaysia. The usual ones that I know of is bak chang (which I made this time), which is savoury, and the kan sui chong, which is the sweet type, made plain with lye water and to dip with kaya or coconut caramel. These two are my usual favourites. Bak chang comes in two types, the dark or the white ones. Foodcrazee had talked bout the white ones here. The usual ones that I always had were the dark ones, which is the one I made this time. Bak chang usually have sam chang bak (pork belly), Chinese mushrooms, dried shrimps, either pak mei tau or lok tau (split green peas), salty duck egg yolk and of course, my personal favourite, fong lut (chesnuts).

The process was tedious, as I had expected. But I was adamant to learn and make it; else the tradition and method will be lost. After all, making this dumpling seems like a very good addition to my ‘exploring my origin’ project.

When I got back, I was only half expecting my Lai Ma to make bak chang with me, I had requested since last week, as she is the type who needs to be in the mood to do something. Nowadays, it is up to whether she feels like it or not, or she is tired or not. This time I got lucky, she asked me bout it and then took everything out to prepare. She said she made some before hand and there are leftovers ingredients. The only thing that I needed to do was to walk 5 minutes to the local tim chai (mini store) nearby and get some beans and extra bamboo leaves for wrapping.

So far there are many variations in making this bak chang, but to me my Lai Ma’s bak changbak chang was out and ready to be devour! All I can say is, my cravings had been answered.

Bak Chang

Alright, the whole process is pretty tedious and seemingly complicated, but don’t feel daunted, take up the challenge and make it. As for me, my chang is much simpler, with less ingredient but nevertheless yummy. I also left out the usual salted duck egg yolks, because the selfish me do not like it.

For the recipe, I break down to few parts for easier preparation. Most of the ingredients, especially the spices and flavourings are all in estimation as, I have said, we Chinese cooked by whim, with fingers dipping in and tasting as we go. It is always a splash of this and a dash of that and some jiggling of this and some spoonfuls of that. My Lai Ma said, cooking by taste is one of Chinese secrets to good cooking, as all ingredients we use differ, our own tastes of what is salty and sweet also differ, therefore we cooks know best to tweak to our the situation and our liking.

As for the wrapping, I wish I could be a better artist to illustrate it, but oh well if you still do not understand, you can head on to Teckie to see the video of her mum wrapping the bak chang, she had also written a comprehensive detail of the preparation. Be careful bout the wrapping as either if wrongly wrapped or too loosely tied, it will leak and come unwrap, resulting in a mess that cannot be salvage. We lost one of it (must be the one I wrapped, he-he.

1 kg glutinous rice
800g – 1 kg pork
200g of pak mei tau (not too sure but I guess it is soy bean)
200g (35-40) fong lut (chestnuts) (depending how many you want to put in your dumpling, we have two for each)
8-10 Chinese dried mushrooms (or 16-20 small ones)
Handful of har mai (dried shrimps)
Handful of minced garlic

Additional fillings (I did not add):
Salted duck egg yolk
Hou see (dried oyster)
Lap cheong (dried Chinese sausage)

20 bamboo leaves
8-10 ham choong chou (literally the dumpling weed plant. You can use any string here)

Marinate for pork (in estimation):
2-3 tbsp of five spice powder
Pinch of ajinomoto (I wouldn’t want this but my Lai Ma insists)
Pinches of salt
2-3 tbsp of white pepper
3-4 tbsp of oyster sauce
2-3 tbsp of dark sauce

For the frying the rice (in estimation):
3-4 tbsp of dark sauce
4-5 tbsp of soy sauce (or to taste)
6-8 tbsp of five spice powder
3-4 tbsp of pepper
5-6 tbsp of oyster sauce
Pinches of ajinomoto
Pinches of salt

For frying the fillings (in estimation):
2-3 tbsp of five spice powder
2-3 tbsp of oyster sauce
2 tbsp of pepper
3-4 tbsp of soy sauce

Day before (or in the morning):
Soak rice with water for at least 6 hrs and up to one day.
Cube the pork and marinate for 8 hrs or overnight

Few hours before cooking and wrapping:
Soak bamboo leaves in water till soft. Then gently wash with running water, wiping with cloth. Stack it up face down in a basin, and then submerge in water until use.
Boil the chestnuts and beans till half cooked.
Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water till soften, then remove stem and halved it (for big ones)
Clean the har mai a few times, running through with water
Drain the soaked glutinous rice.

Cooking the rice:
Heat up 3-4 tbsp of oil in a wok.
Throw in garlic and fried for a minute.
Then add in the glutinous rice and stir fried.
Slowly add in all the frying ingredients, tasting as you go.
Lastly, add in the soy bean, then fry and mix evenly.
Add spices if needed.

Cooking the fillings:
Heat 3 tbsp of oil in wok.
Then add in garlic and stir fry for a minute.
Add in har mai, fong lut and mushrooms.
Fried for few minutes and mix well.
As usual, add in all the fillings spices one by one and fry till evenly mix.
Add in the marinated pork and continue stir fry.
Add in water (bout quarter bowl).
Fry till dry.

For wrapping:
Gather 5 strings together and fold it half, then tie a not to form a bundle
Then prepare a place to wrap, something like this:

Place together ingredients and leaves below it, along with spoon.

Take two leaves and overlap on each other in opposite sides, slightly slanted.
Twist in the middle and turn to shape a cone.
First line the bottom and sides with the rice and bean mix.
Then add in the fillings in the middle: ½ pork, 2 fong lut, 3 har mai and 1 mushroom
Then top loosely with rice.
Turn it upward to close up. Pull it down slightly.
Then turn in and fold the sides.
Fold the top leaves together, then turn down the side.
Now its in a triangle shape.
Tie it with ham choong chou, around the dumpling two times then knot it firmly.

Final cooking:
Put in all the tied dumplings into a huge pot of boiling water, submerged totally in the water.
Boil it for 4-5 hrs, topping up with boiling water every hour or so.
Then take out and hang it to dry.
Peel open leaves and devour!

Make 16-20 big dumplings
(It can keep for few days or few weeks in the refrigerator)


Tummythoz said...

Just luv your 1st pix!

cin said...

I'm SO getting mum to teach me how to make these! Btw, I've linked you.

whistler said...

Well done, very detail blog of Bak Chang..

I've missed the zongzi this year :((

rokh said...

tummythoz, thanks! i like it too

cin, yea you must learn it. it's fun! thanks for the link up

whistler, thank you. oh well, there is always next year eh

FooDcrazEE said...

i love the chair in ur kitchen...damn antique. Kinda difficult to find them nowadays....better keep them in good condition. How do u manage to tie up the chang....i got hard time doing that the last time.

Thanx for mentioning me...

rokh said...

hey foodcrazee, too bad the chairs are not mine, it's my lai ma's and i like them too. still in good condition for sure. old things last very long.

bout tying the chang, i had a hard time too. one even unfurled during boiling. i guess it's all bout practice and experience. i have not enough to advise you yet. maybe i would try it again next year. ;) we can challenge each other

wmw said...

Did a search for bak chang and found this post too (left a comment under your Chee Cheong Fun post too). Wow! Thanks for the elaborate writeup. Will try my hand but will probably enlist the help of another friend to help (or should I end up assisting? ;o)

Little Corner of Mine said...

Nice changs! I miss bak chang so much and thanks for the pics!

rokh said...

wmw, do let me know the outcome! have fun trying.

ching, you're welcome! do try it out too

teckiee said...

...i'm a girl, not a guy =(

rokh said...

teckie...i'm SO sorry. mistake changed

Anonymous said...

rokh, i will have to find some time to make this -- thanks so much for the super-detailed instructions! i've only ever tried making something similar to this once, and it was so much work that i haven't done it in years (my daughter who was around 4 at the time is 15 now!)... yikes! but at least i'll have her help... that looks absolutely delish!

rokh said...

stef, glad you would want to make! it'll be a good bonding with your daughter i'm sure. let me know of the outcome

jadepearl said...

Wah, your wrapping is solid leh! Me try and try and fail and fail...teruk!!!

Anonymous said...

Hello there - I tried making these yesterday and bad news....it did not turn out right =( Are you sure the measurement is tbsp and not tsp? The chang is too peppery....Let me know...Thanxs - from a person too far from home.

rokh said...

rien, i'm sorry bout the too peppery, i guess you would have to taste as you go cause different peppers can differ in its strongness. i wrote down the estimations by memory of how my lai ma dash in things while cooking. maybe you can try again with less pepper, taste it as you go, and you will make one bak chang you yourself will love. good luck!

Anonymous said...

Re: pak mei tau - it's not soya bean but black eye peas.
anyway the chang looks delicious maybe will try it one day.

hytan said...

I am an Australian, but born and raised up in Malaysia. My mum passed away when I was young, and my memories of her always seem to revolve around her cooking. For years, I have been looking for good authentic bak chang here in Melbourne, but none could compare to my mum's. When I saw your post, I literally had goose bumps, I've finally found the recipe! Everything about it is almost identical to how my mum used to make it, including hanging the bak chang on the stick between 2 chairs. I don't remember using pak mei tau though, we used yellow beans, whatever they are. We cooked the bak chang in a huge pot over wood fire, and I would be the one tending to the fire all day. Thanks for this, now my wife can make it for me!

sHe said...

Hey, you make me drool for bak chang
will find time to make it

rokh said...

hytan, i hope your wife is successful in making for you :)

she, do let me know if you made it! :)

Anonymous said...

hi rokh
great! you blogspot would help many who are keen to learn how to cook and would rekindle the interest of those who had left cooking behind for some reasons when they stumble on it or are introduced through friends.
yah, its black eye beans, not soya bean.i think nai ma is more appropriate than lai ma.
3-4 hours is too long a time to wait and have it tasted, by using pressure cooker, it takes only 30 to 45 minutes to cook (depend on the size and flame control),in my case i always put in when the water is boiling, then switch to the lowest flame once high pressure is indicated for 2 to 3 minutes. but make sure the water level is only 3/4 full. so in in one hour's time i am already happily eating my chang.
continue your work to benefit more. i will pop in once in while as a supportive friend, comment to improve, encourage to motivate and support. bye


Anonymous said...

i m afraid that my reminder on water level may mislead, hence its better for me to clarify immediately, 3/4 full water level is inclusive of chang.

rokh said...

robwog, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge as well. will try my best to keep continuing sharing mine here too :)

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