Bak Zhang | 素粽子 Glutinous Rice Dumplings

Yields: 10 Servings Difficulty: Medium Prep Time: 1 Hr Cook Time: 1 Hr Total Time: 2 Hr

端午节 (Duan Wu Jie) is known as the rice dumpling festival or the dragon boat festival. It is celebrated by Chinese on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. On this day, Chinese hold dragon boat races and eat glutinous rice dumplings. Glutinous rice dumplings are known as 粽子 zong zi in Mandarin and bak zhang in Hokkien.

Glutinous rice dumplings have different stuffings based on your cultural heritage. This is the Hokkien recipe with rice fried in soy sauce, shiitake and lions mane mushrooms, mince, and chestnuts. At home, we always have our Hokkien bak zhang piping hot with some garlic chilli sauce on the side. There are also sweet versions and a little yellow one made with lye called kee zhang that you dip in powdered sugar. This awesome post by MCCY lists some of the different types of zong zi.

Preparation for making zong zi starts from cooking all the ingredients separately. This is quite labour intensive but not difficult and I usually do this the day before I plan to wrap and cook. The most challenging part of this entire exercise is the wrapping and tying portion. I couldn’t make a video as I was doing this on my own, but you can watch this video for a better idea.

It is traditional to use bamboo leaves for the wrapping of zong zi. But in times where these are not available, people have used banana leaves and galangal or turmeric leaves instead.

Interested in other Chinese historical food? Check out Qing Tuan / Spring Dumplings (青团)!

History Lesson

So what is the connection between glutinous rice dumplings and dragon boats? Here is the story behind this festival that we were all made to memorise in school.

Once, there was a Chinese poet and court advisor called 屈原 Qu Yuan. He was a loyal and intelligent servant of the people. Sadly, the emperor was quite stupid and listened instead to his evil and corrupt cronies. Hence, he sent Qu Yuan into exile. Qu Yuan was so frustrated that he decided drown himself in the river in protest.

The villagers loved Qu Yuan and were distraught. So they raced their boats up and down the river searching for his body. When they couldn’t find it, they just started beating drums and making a racket hoping to scare any fish away. Some other people had the idea to make rice dumplings to feed the fish so that they would not eat his corpse.

Despite the olden days being very extreme and random, this tradition has endured. These days, we race dragonboats, make a huge racket banging on drums, and eat rice dumplings purely for enjoyment.

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0/31 Ingredients
Adjust Servings
    For Rice
  • For Braised Stuffing
  • For Mince


0/27 Instructions
  • Rehydrate dried shiitake mushrooms, dried lions mane overnight. Soak the glutinous rice for one hour before cooking.
  • Prepare stuffing
  • Rehydrate tvp, rinse, and squeeze dry. Fry garlic and mushroom ends until fragrant, then add the tvp and seasonings. Fry until well coated and dry. Set aside for later.
  • Heat oil over medium-low heat and add cinnamon and star anise until they become fragrant.
  • Add the water and seasonings and bring to boil. Add the mushrooms. and turn the heat down to simmer. Squash the mushrooms with the back of your spatula so they release and re-absorb the braising broth.
  • Cook until dry. Set aside for later.
  • Prepare Rice
  • Heat oil over medium-low heat and fry minced garlic.
  • Mix the soy sauces, five spice, and white pepper for the rice in a bowl.
  • Add rice and half the seasoning liquid, mixing until the colour is uniformed.
  • Dissolve the salt in the boiling water. Add the rest of the seasoning together with the salty hot water to the rice. Mix until the colour is uniformed.
  • Keep stirring until the rice is dry. Set aside for later.
  • Making the Dumplings
  • Boil the bamboo leaves for 2-3 minutes until pliable and darkened.
  • Snip off the hard base of the leaves.
  • Place two leaves over each other, facing opposite directions, one slightly lower. The part with the leaf ridge is facing down (smooth side up).
  • Make a cone shape.
  • Add one heaped tbsp of rice and press down firmly.
  • Add the mushroom and chestnut.
  • Add one heaped tbsp of mince and top with goji berries and press down firmly.
  • Add two heaped tbsp of rice and press down firmly.
  • Fold the three shorter edges inward if your leaves are big enough.
  • Folded the long top over and trim the pointy bits at the end.
  • Tadah!
  • For tying technique watch this video:
  • Cooking the Dumplings
  • Using a pressure cooker, cook for 45 minutes.
  • Using a steamer or pot, cook for 4 hours.
  • After cooking, hang the dumplings or leave in a sieve to make sure all the moisture drains.
  • Reheating the Dumplings
  • If dumplings have been in the fridge, reheat by steaming for 15-20 minutes.
  • If dumplings have been in the freezer, defrost at room temperature for an hour then reheat by steaming for 45 minutes.

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