Thursday, 14 May 2009

Binge – Bak Chang Beckons

‘Tis bak chang season again. On the fifth day of the fifth month of the Lunar calendar, it is tradition to unwrap those greasy lotus leaves and sink your teeth into the juicy, aromatic pyramids of sticky glutinous rice all plump and stuffed with the promise of sweet fatty pork, chestnuts and other sinful goodies. Thus to deliciously commemorate Qu Yuan who flung himself in a fit of poetic despair into the Mi Luo River. Are we hungry yet?

Personally, I like my bak chang traditional. However just like CNY goodies and mooncakes, there are plenty of unusual bak chang creations available these days, created by itchy fingered chefs who can’t help trying something new. Traditional or novel, here’s a sampling of what’s available out there and which I would eat.

Pine Court at the Meritus Mandarin is offering nine varieties this year, the newest being the stewed Dong Bo pork dumpling ($16.80 each). It’s a sumptuous package of glutinous rice stuffed with stewed Dong Bo pork, pumpkin, yam and chestnuts. There’s also the Xiamen meat dumpling ($5.30), a luscious chang of roast pork, salted egg yolk, dried shrimp, mushrooms, chestnuts which I thought was excellent, and the XO meat rice dumpling, with pork, dried shrimp, chestnut, green bean, and Pine Court’s homemade XO sauce. The rice in their dumplings is particularly smooth and tender, with a generous load of fillings. Nice.

Interestingly, they have a foie gras dumpling with roast duck, sea whelk and lotus seeds, and an abalone and sharks fin dumpling. Sounds very stylo-mylo but hmmm…don’t think there’s a real need to reinvent the wheel.
Available 8-28 May at the Deli Counter and at Pine Court. Tel: 6831 6262

Up the hill at Orange Grove Road, Shangri-La Hotel’s Master Chef Peter Tsang – who by the way has a wonderful book available at Popular Book store containing all the secrets of the Chinese kitchen – has rolled out a traditional Feng Cheng dumpling ($10.50). It’s stuffed with everything except the kitchen sink – conpoy, roast pork, roast duck, pork belly, chestnut, lotus seed, green bean, salted egg yolk and dried shrimp. There’s also a new curiosity – the vegetarian five rice dumpling ($11.50) which sounds pretty workable, made with five varieties of ‘rice’ including brown rice, peanut and corn.
Good as a gift for those vaguely anorexic, wheatgrass-drinking, birdseed-eating friends. If you need to haul a gift over to loving old Grandma, though, the Dragon Boat Dumpling Hamper ($55) contains five varieties including Feng Cheng Dumpling, the Abalone Rice Dumpling, Five Rice Dumpling, Taiwan Style Sweet Dumpling and Sweet Green Tea Paste Dumpling.

Available 11 to 28 May 2009 at Shang Palace and The Line Shop. Tel: 6213 4473.

At Orchard Hotel, Hua Ting’s signature rice dumpling with roasted meat in Hong Kong style ($12) is back on sale, filled with freshly roasted duck and meat, scallop, mushrooms, salted egg yolk, fragrant chestnuts and dried lotus seeds. Two new varieties from the restaurant’s award winning sifu are rice dumpling in Hakka style ($5.80) with minced pork, mushrooms, dried cuttlefish and preserved radish, and crystal rice dumpling ($5.80), a sweet package stuffed with lotus paste and assorted beans and rice sago.
What’s nice about Hua Ting is, they've kept to traditional flavours…which works best of all for me. For gifts, they have a premium gift set of six dumplings ($35.80).

Available now until 28 May at Hua Ting, Orchard Hotel. Tel: 6739 6666

Finally, even though I do not generally favour non-traditional festive foods – after coming across some seriously traumatic mooncake ‘innovations’ in recent years –admittedly there are those that may actually, seriously work. And even though I have not tried it, I suspect some of the new bak chang creations by Marina Mandarin’s Peach Blossom this year may in fact turn out quite nice. Most of their savoury ones are traditional in flavour, but they have also rolled out unique sweet ones.
On the take-away menu are a sweet dumpling filled with lotus paste and osmanthus ($6.80) and full short grain rice dumpling with red bean and yam paste ($6.80). Sounds delightful. If I had plenty of time, I would serve it as a nice Oriental afternoon tea with ice green tea.
If you’re dining in at the restaurant, try the intriguing chilled dumpling with dragon fruit and honey ($4.80, pictured at the top of this story) and tell me what it’s like. The description says it’s glutinous rice wrapped round dragon fruit paste and served with a drizzling of honey.

Available 11-18 May at Peach Blossoms, Marina Mandarin Hotel. Tel: 6845 1118


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