Nyonya Bak Chang Recipe (娘惹粽 Rice Dumplings)

Today’s recipe covers a rather delightful bamboo leaf wrapped glutinous rice dumpling seen in many countries. But I’ll be covering the Nyonya (Peranakan) style of this dumpling, since that’s where my heritage comes from.

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Bak Chang (粽子 zong zi) is pretty much available all year round back in Singapore, but there’s actually a (duān wǔ) Chinese Dragon Boat festival where these pyramidal rice dumplings are traditionally enjoyed (around late-May to mid-June).

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Here’s how these changs are stored… in bundles of a dozen or so dumplings, all tied up with raffia string. At my favourite bak chang stall in Hong Lim Market (Singapore) the colour of the string denotes what type of dumpling it is. Nyonya bakchangs are tied with green string, and Hokkien bakcangs with pink string.

Truth be told, I am not that big a fan of these Nyonya-style dumplings where there’s a sweet and savoury element to them (because of the used of candied wintermelon). However, mum’s recipe turned out so delicious that I ended up liking them a lot more now. The fragrance from the pandan leaves and toasted coriander seeds made a big difference!

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Glutinous rice | Raffia string, S-Hooks, Wet-packed bamboo leaves

As usual, I’ll go through the ingredients and steps involved in making these dumplings before going into the recipe. First up, you’ll need glutinous rice of course. And on the right are some of the ‘equipment’ you’ll need to wrap and tie the bakcangs.

I prefer the wet-packed bamboo leaves because you don’t have to pre-soak / boil them to soften the leaves. They also hold the same fragrance as the dry leaves. However, the dry bamboo leaves are bigger and wider, and will allow you to wrap larger, nicer-looking changs.

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Pandan leaves, garlic, blue food dye, white pepper

These are the rest of the ingredients to make the glutinous rice part of the filling. Mum’s recipe uses a quick frying method to prepare the rice, and I think it makes the dumplings more fragrant. Traditionally, Nyonya Bakchangs have a touch of blue in them made from Bunga Telang (blue pea flower) extract. To create something similar, I just used blue food colouring.

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Ingredients to make the filling

And here’s what you need to make the filling, plus some nice fatty pork. Dried shiitake mushrooms are easily found at your Asian grocers, but the candied wintermelon (冬瓜糖 dōng guā táng) can be slightly harder to find. Try looking at the section near where they sell rock sugar, it is also called ‘melon candy’.

If you’re using the type of candied wintermelon that comes in sticks (as opposed to the squareish type), I noticed that it’s coated with more sugar around it, so you almost don’t need to add any extra sugar when seasoning your filling.

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Aside for pre-boiling the bamboo leaves if you’re using the dry version, the first step usually involves gently washing and then soaking the glutinous rice for a few hours. My adorable foster kitty got really curious with what I was getting up to when I was doing this. Isn’t he a beautiful looking thing?

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While the glutinous rice is soaking, you can prepare the other ingredients. The pork is par boiled for a few minutes to remove the scum, this step also firms it up and makes it much easier to cut into cubes. If you’re lazy, you can always used minced pork instead, but I think it won’t be as nice texturally.

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The shiitake mushrooms are softened by soaking and then cubed. You will also need to cube the melon candy. And the coriander seeds are dry fried till fragrant and then ground into a fine powder. This was the time consuming part of the preparation work.

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To prepare the glutinous rice, first fry a few cloves of smashed garlic in hot oil till fragrant, then discard the garlic. Next, toss in the pandan leaves and fry very briefly to release its fragrance.

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Then add the (soaked) glutinous rice and the rest of the seasonings, stir quickly to mix it evenly till the rice starts to get slightly sticky. Then stop frying any further to prevent the rice from hardening up. Scoop out and cover.

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The filling is then made by frying the minced garlic and shallots till fragrant before adding the cubed mushrooms.

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Then add the cubed pork and fry till half cooked before adding the spices and seasonings. The candied wintermelon is added last and the mixture is simmered over low heat till the flavours are combined. Finally, if it isn’t sweet enough, add sugar to taste (I personally prefer it less sweet so did not add any sugar).

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And here’s rice and filling all prepared. I mixed a small amount of the fried glutinous rice with the blue food colouring so that we can have a touch of blue in each dumpling. But traditionally the blue colour is extracted by boiling sun-dried bunga telang (blue pea flowers) and then straining it.

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The wrapping steps and tips have been covered in my How To Wrap Bak Chang post, so I won’t repeat it here.

My main tip would be to keep the unused bamboo leaves submerged in water whilst wrapping as the leaves dry up when out of water. I’d also use less blue rice than what’s pictured here as some of my dumplings had a touch too much blue after cooking. In fact it’d probably be prettier if the blue rice was added right at the start, so that you get one blue tip in each dumpling!

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Cooking the dumplings involves boiling the whole bunch in a large pot for 2 hours, or you can use a pressure cooker. You can add a few knotted bunches of pandan leaves into the water for extra fragrance too. Once cooked, hang the dumplings to remove excess water and cool to room temperature. The cooked dumplings can kept for up to a week in the refrigerator and for a few months if frozen.

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These Nyonya changs were quite a delight to eat, and Fatbee really liked them too. While I think that mum’s recipes tends to be as annoyingly hard to do as your GCE ‘A’ Level examinations, the end result is worth it. These dumplings were wonderfully fragrant.

I think using cubed pork, toasting the coriander seeds, adding that piece of pandan leaf in each dumpling, and cooking them in pandan water all made a big difference.  I finished this project smelling like one giant walking bush of pandan leaves, ha ha ha… edibleboo!

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Mum’s Nonya Bakchang
(娘惹粽 – Glutinous Rice Dumplings)

Preparation Time: 3hrs
Cooking time: 1-3hrs
Makes 24-30 changs

Glutinous Rice Ingredients

1 kg Glutinous Rice
4 tbsps Oil
20 gm Garlic Cloves (smashed & peel off skin)
3 pcs Pandan Leaves (tied into a knot)
½ tsp White Pepper Powder
2 tsps Salt
½ tsp Sugar
Blue Food Dye (optional)

Filling Ingredients

650gm Fatty Pork
40 gm Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
200 gm Candied Chinese Wintermelon
20 gm Coriander Seeds

2½ tbsps Oil
40 gm Garlic (finely chopped)
200 gm Shallots (finely chopped)
¾ tbsp White Pepper Powder
1½  tbsps Light Soya Sauce
1½  tbsps Dark Soya Sauce
1 tsp Fine Salt

Other Equipment

Bamboo Leaves
Raffia String
Pressure Cooker (optional)
Extra Pandan Leaves (optional)

Glutinous Rice Preparation

Wash gently, then soak in water for 2 hours, drain:
Glutinous Rice

Heat Oil in a wok, then add Garlic Cloves and fry till fragrant. Discard the garlic.
Toss in the knotted Pandan Leaves & fry very briefly to release its fragrance
Add soaked Glutinous Rice, give it a quick stir to coat the rice thoroughly with oil
Now immediately add all the seasonings of White Pepper Powder, Salt & Sugar
Stir briefly to mix evenly. Do not over fry or else rice will harden
Scoop up & leave it to cool, then cover with plastic to prevent rice from drying up

Filling Preparation

Soak in water till soft, then remove stalks and cut into small cubes:
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Parboil for a few minutes to remove scum then cut into small cubes:
Fatty pork

Dry fry in a non-stick pan till fragrant, then grind till very fine and sift out any large pieces:
Coriander Seeds

Cut into small cubes:
Candied Chinese Wintermelon

Heat Oil in a wok, then add Chopped Garlic & fry till light brown
Add Chopped Shallots & continue to fry till fragrant
Then add Cubed Mushrooms & fry till mixture is fragrant
Add the Cubed Pork & continue to fry till Pork is half cooked
Add the Coriander Powder, White Pepper Powder, Light Soya Sauce, Dark Soya Sauce, Fine Salt
Then add Cubed Candied Chinese Wintermelon & continue to fry over medium heat
Reduce heat & simmer till mixture binds well
Season to taste with Sugar (depending on how sweet your candied wintermelon is)

Wrapping & Tying

Refer to my post How To Wrap Bak Chang, it has photos and videos.

What’s different in this post is I added one small piece of pandan leaf to each chang, making it more fragrant
Resist the urge to tie the changs too tightly, as it’d prevent the dumpling from swelling during cooking
Choose how many strings (& changs) to have in each bundle according to the size of your pot
Having that little bowl of blue-dyed glutinous rice is optional, but having that bit of blue in the chang is a Nyonya trademark


Traditional Method:
Lower the Wrapped Bakchangs (string & all) into a pot of rapidly boiling water
Add tied bunches of Pandan Leaves, cover and boil for 2 hours
Remove Changs and hang to cool and drip dry

Using Pressure Cooker:
Fill Pressure Cooker with water & bring to a boil (do not cover)
Stir in ½ tbsp Salt & toss in tied bunches of Pandan Leaves
Lower the Wrapped Bakchangs, cover & cook over high fire till pressurised
Lower the fire & continue to cook for another 20 mins
Then switch off the fire & leave the Changs in the Pressure Cooker for another 15 mins
De-pressurise the pot & remove the Changs
Hang Changs up to cool and drip dry

By the way, there are more comforting home recipes here.