Joong/Zongzi is a glutinous rice package of goodies wrapped in bamboo leaves. It can be either savoury or sweet and is a traditional food that is eaten during the Dragon Boat festival (Tuen Ng/Duanwu Jie). The festival happens on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. It is a significant day to commemorate Qu Yuan (a patriotic poet and a political figure in ancient China).
Legend has it that Qu Yuan had given some advice to the Emperor, but was slandered and he was exiled. Disheartened, he threw himself into the Mi Luo river on the fifth day of the fifth month. Upon hearing the tragic news, local fishermen sailed their long boats and made loud noises in hopes to scare away the sea creatures and evil spirits away from his body. Other locals threw glutinous rice dumplings into the water believing the fishes will eat the dumplings instead of Qu Yuan’s body.
This year I am thankful to learn from my grandma how to make her traditional savoury joong. A lot of time and care are required to prepare the actual ingredients prior to wrapping the joong. You need to start the preparations well in advance before the actual day of wrapping and cooking.
- 3 lbs of pork, sliced
- preserved salted duck egg yolks
- 2 packages (14 oz, each) of lap cheong (Chinese preserved sausage)
- 3.5 lbs of mung bean
- 3.5 lbs of sticky rice
- 0.5 lbs of dried shrimp
- 2 packages (12 oz, each) of peanuts
- 1 package (12 oz) of bamboo leaves
- Sugar to taste
- Salt to taste
Preparation of pork:
- Note: In my grandma’s recipe, she usually uses pork belly. I don’t like the fatty texture, so she used a lean cut of pork loin in this recipe for me. There is still some fat, but not as much as pork belly. She does not like using very lean cuts of meat because it will lack flavour.
- Divide pork into even slices, about 3 inches in length and 1 inches in width. It should approximately give around 45 pieces of pork meat.
- Place pork into a bowl. Combine 2 tbsp of salt and sugar and mix well with the pork. Add 1.5 tbsp of oil and mix well. The oil will keep the pork moist.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least four days and in between the days, mix the contents well so they are evenly coated.
Preparation of preserved salted duck egg yolks:
Note: My grandma usually uses half an egg yolk per joong. For this recipe, I use a full egg yolk, thinking it'd make the joong better since I love egg yolks. However, after trying it, I understand why grandma uses only half an egg yolk. It balances the flavours and a full yolk is too large making less room for other fillings. If your local grocery store sells these, it’ll save time in the preparation. If they are not available, here is the recipe:
- Bring 1 L of water to a boil and dissolve 3 cups of salt. Let the water cool to room temperature. This will serve as the brining liquid.
- In a glass container or jar, layer a dozen of duck eggs. Pour the brine over the duck eggs and make sure they are fully submerged. Store in a dark, cool place for at least three weeks.
- Separate egg whites from the yolks. Freeze the yolks to allow it to firm up.
Preparation of bamboo leaves:
Note: My grandma trims the leaves to make them all even so when it comes to wrapping, it will be easier to wrap. She recommends cleaning the leaves three times or until the water is clear to optimize the flavour, otherwise, it will taste dirty.
- In a pot of water, add the bamboo leaves and allow it to soak for about two hours.
- Add 2 tbsp of salt to the pot and bring water to a boil.
- Let it boil for about 5 minutes before turning off the heat.
- Let the bamboo leaves soak until it has softened, at least 20 minutes.
- Drain the water from leaves. Allow the leaves to cool to room temperature in the sink. Shocking the leaves in cold water right now will tear the bamboo leaves.
- Once cooled, plug the sink and run cold water to cover the leaves.
- Using a brush or clean sponge, run the brush along one side of the leaf making sure the leaf is submerged under water. Turn over and repeat. Place the cleaned leaf in a separate sink.
- Repeat until all leaves are cleaned.
- Once cleaned, keep the leaves submerged in water over two nights, changing the water each day and cleaning the leaves. By the end of this process, the water should be clear.
- On the day of wrapping, drain the bamboo leaves completely and set aside.
Day of wrapping:
Preparation of mung bean and peanuts:
- In separate bowls, soak mung beans and peanuts in water for two hours.
- Drain water.
- Separate 1.5lbs of mung bean in a bowl for filling and the rest will be mixed with peanuts and the glutinous rice.
Preparation of the dried shrimp:
- Rinse dried shrimp in water to clean them.
- In a hot pan, add a bit of oil and stir fry the dried shrimp until fragrant. There is no need to add salt, as these dried shrimp are already salty. Let it cool and set aside.
Preparation of lap cheong:
Slice in thirds.
Preparation of egg yolk:
Remove from freezer and slice in half.
Preparation of glutinous rice:
- Wash rice three times or until water becomes clear.
- Soak in warm water for a little bit to soften the grains. It should take about 10 minutes.
- Drain water.
- Add 2 tbsp of sugar and salt. Add 3 tbsp of oil and mix well with the rice. Taste for seasonings.
- Combine drained peanuts and mung beans with the rice.
- Take one bamboo leaf and inspect for tears. There is a fuzzy side and a shiny side. The shiny side should be facing you and it will be the inside of the joong. Slightly bend the leaf in half and make a fold and pinch to make a corner. Holding the bamboo leaf like a cone, you are now ready to add your fillings.
- Add 2 tbsp of rice mixture and press into the corner.
- Make a small depression and add mung beans. Add half an egg yolk, ⅓ of lap cheong, 1 piece of pork and 2-3 pieces of dried shrimp. Top up with the rice mixture (about another 2 tbsp).
- Add a second leaf to the cone, and holding tight pinch to make a second corner, ensuring the leaves do not rip.
- Holding the package tightly in your hand, turn the package 90 degrees and squeeze the rice at the top to form a neat edge. Then fold over and tie tightly with twine. If for any reason a bamboo leaf tears, add another one to patch it up. The important part is to ensure the corners do not rip.
- Repeat steps until ingredients are used up.
- Note: If there are any remaining bamboo leaves, they can be dried and reused at a later time. Simply fold the leaves in half, place a string between and hang outside to dry. Re-hydrate when needed.
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add joongs into the water and make sure they are submerged in water. Cover and let the pot come back to a full boil. Reduce the heat slightly for a rolling boil and keep an eye on the pot to ensure the water does not spill over. Boil for about 5 hours and replenish water as necessary. Rotate joong as necessary if some are not fully submerged.
- Remove joongs and drain. Set aside to cool for about 10 minutes and they are ready to be served.
- Once cooled to room temperature, you may refrigerate up to one week or freeze the joong up to several months. To defrost, place the joong in simmering water until full reheated.
Note: Other savoury variations include dried shiitake mushrooms, dried scallops and chestnuts. My grandma does not use chestnuts because they do not keep well. Chestnut filled joongs must be eaten within 2 days otherwise, they will go bad.
This is a cultural treat that I look forward to each year when my grandma makes them. After realizing how much labour is involved with making this special delicacy, I understand why it's an annual tradition. Grandma's love and care with these joong makes them the best! Dim-sum restaurants cannot be compared.