In many traditional ethnic Chinese households, every year, during the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, bak chang would be eaten to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival.
Zhong is the Cantonese name for the rice dumplings while bak chang is the Hokkien equivalent.
Each type of bak chang has different ingredients according to the different cultures of the different sub-ethnic groups.
The most common bak chang is the Hokkien one where the glutinous rice is fried with dark soy sauce first before it is wrapped with pork, chestnut, mushrooms and salted egg yolks and then boiled. This results in a darker brown sticky glutinous rice mixture when cooked.
The Cantonese zhong is prepared differently as the glutinous rice is wrapped with green beans and pork before it is boiled so it results in a pale dumpling that falls apart when you dig into it.
“The Hakka bak chang is like the Cantonese one but it has black-eyed peas instead of green beans so it has a different flavour.
Beside the bak chan, there are other type of change dumpling to enjoy. For the Nyonyas in Penang, they have their own version of Chang which is called Pua Kiam Te. The stuffing however differs from that of the traditional Bak Chang. The glutinous rice dumplings is in natural source for edible blue colouring from rehydrating dried Bunga Telang (Butterfly-pea flower) and uses spices, peanuts and winter melon.
The often eaten as a dessert chang, Kee Chang or alkaline rice dumplings, get their distinctive yellow colour and flavour from lye water. The traditional alkaline water dumplings are often cooked plain with just the glutinous rice and served unwrapped either plain or with brown sugar or palm sugar.
June is the month of dumplings (bak chang in Hokkien) and dragon boat races in Penang.
The festival revolves around two main events, the availability of delicious glutinous rice dumplings for the picking at every wet market and hawker food stall and the dragon boat race on the first weekend of June.
The festival, also called Duanwu Festival, is held at the same time as the Dragon Boat Festival so the Penang International Dragon Boat Festival is held annually during this time at the Teluk Bahang Dam.
The festival is believed to have originated from the death of a patriotic poet, Qu Yuan, from the state of Chu during the Zhou Dynasty.
Legend has it that Qu was accused of treason and banished for opposing the king’s alliance with the state of Qin. When Qin captured the state of Chu’s capital, Qu committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River and it is said that locals raced their boats out to the river to save him which saw the birth of the dragon boat races.
When the locals failed to find his body, they dropped balls of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river so that the fishes would eat those instead of his body.
In modern times, these balls of sticky rice are most definitely made for human consumption and a homemade delicacy made in many Chinese homes.
Although fewer people make bak chang at home these days, it is fortunate that hawkers and some homemakers continue to sell these delicious wrapped delicacies in June. So, the fifth lunar month means the mushrooming of roadside stalls, pop-up stalls in wet markets and hawker centres where bak chang of all varieties can be found.
Fortunately, there are a few stalls that sell the dumplings all year round so if you miss the season, you can still have your fill of bak chang. We have few places in George Town for you to try on.
Cintra food corner @ Weld Quay (11am-6pm)
Roadside stall @ Junction of Jalan Burma & Jalan Tavoy (11am-6pm)
Hong Kong tea garden @ Jalan Macalister (6pm-11pm)