Tuesday, 19 June 2007


It is that time of the day when the brain goes to sleep. But it is particularly acute today, meeky suspects. He knew the reason: Zongzi, the Chinese glutinous rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves. Today is the zong festival. It is going to be a bad week for the food hawkers. For the next few days the Chinese, young and old, will be eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, if that’s possible.

Meeky’s mother’s zongzi is unique, as least that is what he likes to think. The reason: her zongzi contains, as one of the ingredients, sweet red bean paste. Imagine a pork zongzi containing sweet red bean paste.

While many prefer the glutinous rice dumpling to look whitish in colour, she prefers it to have the rich dark colour of “Pearl River” mushroom soya sauce.

The usual ingredients of course are fresh pork with alternate layers of fat(belly pork), dried shrimps, chestnuts(what is zong without chestnuts?), dried mushrooms, the type that is fleshy when soaked before being fried with the pork slices and dried shrimps, and her specialty: red bean paste. The bean paste is made into a small round ball, no larger than the size of a chinese adult male’s big toe (can someone help? Meeky couldn’t think of a more appropriate comparison; all he could think of was his large toe) wrapped in a sort of transparent membrane with threads of fat crisscrossing it. From which part of the pig does it come from? Could it be the membrane which encases the pig's brain? Meeky isn't sure, nor does he know the English word for it. One has to be a butcher to know intimately every part of the pig, but in Teochew, it’s called “peng say”. Mind you that is not written in ‘pinyin’ or Romanized Mandarin. It is merely to approximate as closely as possible the way it is spoken in Teochew. The whole idea is to prevent the red bean paste from disintegrating and seeping into the taste of the pork and the shrimps as the zongzi is being boiled. The ‘peng say’ keeps the ball of bean paste intact and it melts together with the paste in the mouth when eaten. Of course, the use of ‘peng say’ has been abandoned because of its high fat content, and in its place the tofu skin is used, which is tough and leathery; it never lets you forget that you are chewing tofu skin. Well, so much for Meeky’s mother’s special zongzi.

Strange as it may appear, her zongzi seems to show up people's eating habits. There are some who would carefully, tenderly separate the ball of bean paste from the rest of the dumpling to be savoured last while there are some whose eyes would zero in onto the ball as they tear apart the zongzi, pick it up and pop it into their mouths before eating the rest.

Meeky would like to know if there is anyone out there who puts red bean paste into their zongzi too so that they can compare notes to find out the best substitute for 'peng say', so to speak.

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