Tuesday, May 24, 2005

DUMPLINGS GALORE!

With ‘duanwu jie’ or rice dumplings festival just around corner, many Chinese housewives and enterprising food stall operators will be busy churning out delicious cone-shaped rice dumplings, wrapped in bamboo and lotus leaves to celebrate the occasion.

Since yours truly do not have the time nor inclination to make this traditional delicacy (I will make an attempt one of these days), I end up buying the 'choong' from my favourite shop in Bandar Sungai Long.

My personal favourites are the Nyonya ones that are slightly sweetish due to its finely minced pork and candied winter melon filling and the rice dumpling itself stained a lovely blue from the juice of 'pea flowers' or 'bunga telang' as it is known. Unfortunately, really good and tasty ones are hard to come by now. Our family used to purchase lots from a Mrs Wong whose stall in Petaling Jaya Old Town but even standards have dropped somewhat in recent years. I also recalled a scrumptious one presented to me by a good friend when she came to KL from Melaka. Alas, todate I have yet to savour any that has come close to eclipsing these two benchmarks.

When it comes to savoury rice dumplings, however, I find my 'Ah Kim' or maternal aunt's version simply unsurpassed. Until I discover Tasty Rice Dumplings in Bandar Sg Long that is.

Opened just three years ago in this fast-growing housing hub, Madam Elaine Chow's shop has drawn a regular stream of customers not only from the Klang Valley, but some as far as Singapore and Hong Kong just to purchase her delicious rice dumplings.

The Ipoh-born Hakka lady who now resides in Kuala Lumpur for the past 22 years, first learned the art of making ‘choong’ from her own mother. Her interest was further heightened after a short stint managing a ‘halal’ rice dumpling stall in a major hypermarket five years ago.

Being a stickler for details who demand impossibly high standards from her workers, Madam Chow admitted she is very particular about the dumplings' overall quality, whether it is the raw ingredients, the way the rice dumplings are filled ('the ingredients have to be centred exactly') or their final shape.

She insists on using only the freshest pork meat and ensures the supplier delivers it to her shop early in the day so that the meat can be prepared quickly for the filling before the quality and taste deteriorate. She balks at the very idea of using frozen meat as it will greatly affect the taste of the dumplings.

Other stringent requirments include the use of premium grade, pure glutinous rice and good quality salted egg yolks. Even the raffia string for tying the wrapped dumplings is specially selected not only for its food-safe standard and its ability to withstand the steaming process.

Her current selection of rice dumplings are fruits of her painstakingly experiments with different recipes where family and friends were roped in to sample her creations so that they could provide her with feedback. She even travelled to Penang, Taiwan and China to sample and learn how different kinds of rice dumplings tasted and what made them special.

Today, her patience and dedication are amply rewarded as many customers from near and far patronize her shop just to buy the ‘choongs’. Many became customers by sheer word of mouth recommendation. Her wide clientele include Malaysians who have migrated to far-flung countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Australia as well as food lovers from Singapore, China and Hong Kong.

Her best-selling one is the Supreme Dumpling (RM4.20 each) that comes with extra generous filling of pork, chestnut, black mushroom and salted egg yolk.

Equally popular is the ‘kee chang’ or plain rice dumpling made with alkaline water (80 sen for plain, RM1.00 for one with red bean filling). The lovely yellow dumpling is superb with or without its red bean filling. Its texture is well-balanced, not too compact or too soft. They are absolutely yummy when eaten dipped in some sugar or spread with home-made ‘kaya’ (local egg jam).

The Chilli Shrimp Dumpling (RM3.00 each) is a hit amongst younger customers due to its unusual filling of dried prawn ‘sambal’. Let me assure you the 'sambal' is extremely delicate in its spiciness but succeeds in infusing the dumpling with an enticing flavour.

Another superb version to look out for is the Spicy Salted Dumpling (RM3.00 each). It comprises glutinous rice that has been fried beforehand with soya sauce and then ‘spiced up’ with five-spice powder. There is no salted egg yolk in it but has a filling of dried prawns and black mushrooms instead.

The pale Cantonese Dumpling (RM3.50 each) epitomizes the ‘ching’ (clear) flavour that is so predominant in Cantonese cuisine. With a delicious filling of mung beans, black mushroom, pork and salted egg yolk, this dumpling is possibly the most distinctive of all the eight varieties sold here.

The remaining varieties are the vegetarian rice dumpling (RM2.50 each) filled with mock meat, mung beans and black mushrooms., another savoury dumpling with black eye peas, pork, black mushrooms and salted egg yolk, spicy salted dumpling (RM3.50) that has dried prawns and five-spice powder in it, and a Penang Nyonya ‘chang’ (RM2.90).

Since no preservatives are added, Madam Chow advised us that it is best to either consume the rice dumplings as soon as possible or store them in the fridge. “They can last for a week if kept properly chilled. If you intend to freeze it, then they can keep for about a month.”

She anticipates the demand to increase as the Dumplings Festival draws nearer. However, Madam Chow told us she has no plans to add any novel or fancy fillings to her existing dumplings selection due to skilled labour constraints and the need to ensure quality is maintained.

Sounds like the lady has her rice dumplings business all wrapped up and only early bird customers will get a tasty sampling of it.

TASTY RICE DUMPLINGS (non-halal)
28 Jalan SL1/2 Bandar Sungai Long
Jalan Cheras Batu 11
43000 Selangor

T: 9076 6130

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