Category Archives: Dumplings

That’s Alkaline Zongzi You’re Smelling

Alkaline Zongzi with Red Bean Paste


About two years ago two neighbors of ours separately stopped us in the corridor and wondered if we had a good time smoking pot in our apartment the night before. I was initially perplexed and rather indignant by the insinuation. Then I realized the odor they smelled through our door was in fact from boiling zongzi, which I was preparing for the annual Duanwu Festival, commonly called the Dragon Boat Festival in the West. The concoction of bamboo leaves, meat and spices has an odor very similar to marijuana smoke, or so I’ve been told.

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Be Adventurous with Wonton

Sichuan Chili Oil Wonton

Song Jiang (宋江), who is an outlaw during the Song dynasty (宋朝) around eleventh century, is also a heroic character in the classic Chinese novel Water Margin (水滸傳) written around the fourteenth century. In the novel he is exiled to Jiang Zhou (江州) after being convicted for a murder. Along with two bailiffs they board a hired river ferry which, unbeknownst to them, is operated by a pirate. Once they reach the middle of the river the pirate demands that they turn over their possessions and choose “shaved noodles” (板刀麵) or “wonton” (餛飩) for their last meal. Upon further clarification the pirate explains they can either be killed under his machete like dough being shaved into noodles or they can kill themselves by jumping into the river like wonton in a soup. Such is the poetic macabre image of wonton in one of the most beloved literary works of ancient China.

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Communal Dumplings for the Family

Chinese Pot Stickers

In Ba Jin’s (巴金) epic Chinese literary trilogy: Family, Spring and Autumn (家,春,秋), the author describes the life of a Chinese aristocratic family during the final years of the feudalistic Qing dynasty. It was a tumultuous time in which the family members had to negotiate changing political landscape as dynastic rule disintegrated, as well as the family’s own struggle between generations over changing values and aspirations. Ba Jin was a great observer and narrator of a China struggling within and without while falling into chaos at the beginning of the twentieth century. Among all the confusions and upheaval, there is one single constant and that is the communal family meal.

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Last Minute Dumplings to Ring in the New Year

Crabmeat and Dill Dumplings

We usually plan our New Year’s Eve early. We would arrange to join friends for a dinner celebration either at a restaurant or at home. This year, however, with my busy travel schedule to Asia in November and December, hosting our family Christmas celebration and organizing Warren’s 60th birthday party we found ourselves without a plan. Fortunately, a neighbor suggested we join them and their friends for a late night champagne and h’or d’oeuvres gathering.

Also posted in Recipes, Seafood | 12 Responses

The Yong Tau Foo Stuffing Mystery

Hakka Yong Tau Foo

Hakka Yong Tau Foo

Our good friend CK took us to the Chinatown section of Kuala Lumpur during our tour of Malaysia in August. Walking through a little alleyway we entered a small bustling wet market. These markets, still commonplace in Asia, are collections of vendors hawking multitudes of produce, seafood, poultry, meat and dry goods. Beyond the market there was an area full of hawker stalls selling prepared food. Weary shoppers could enjoy a snack or a hearty meal there. In among the stalls was CK’s favorite vendor selling yong tau foo. He still remembers skipping class to sneak a snack there. Passionate fans of yong tau foo lavish devotion on their favorite vendors for good reasons. Many vendors have been in the business for generations and have developed their very own special recipes. But if these recipes have been handed down through generations, why then is the yong tau foo we know of in Malaysia and Singapore so different from the traditional Hakka yong tau foo served in China or Hong Kong?

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Secret of the Zongzi

Bundle of Zongzi

Bundle of Zongzi

Every year in May or June, dragon boat races are held all over the world. There are races in Hong Kong, San Francisco, New York, London and everywhere in between. These races originate from the Chinese celebration of the Duan Wu Festival (端午節) on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which this year falls on Thursday the 28th of May. The most widely told story of the origin of the festival is that it commemorates the death of QuYuan (屈原), a patriotic minister and poet to the court of Emperor Huai (楚懷王) of the Chu Kingdom (楚國) during the Warring Sates period (春秋戰國) around 300 BCE. After serving the emperor loyally for many years, Qu Yuan ran afoul of court politics and was banished. He was devastated and started writing poetry lamenting the loss of the emperor’s favor and the decline of his native kingdom. Saddened by the eventual fall of the Chu Kingdom and the death of Emperor Huai he killed himself in the Mi Luo River (汨羅江). However there is a deep dark secret that is not often discussed.

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Egg Dumplings, Comforting Food

Egg Dumplings

Egg Dumplings

I was sixteen when I left Singapore to attend the university in Boston. To combat my homesickness I surrounded myself with many Chinese students from Taiwan. This was not by design, but rather they were the students from Asia I found sympathetic to my loneliness. It was the mid 1970’s and China was at the end of its cultural revolution. Nixon had just visited the then reclusive regime, and there was a lot of anxiety among my Taiwanese friends about the survival of Taiwan and their own future. The Republic of China (or Taiwan) was about to be abandoned diplomatically by America. Amidst all these development my Taiwanese friends would gather at comforting and bountiful meals to calm each other. Food was the salve that soothed everyone’s nerves.

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