It’s coming soon – the Zhang or Rice Dumpling Festival also known as the Dragon Boat or the Duan Wu Festival.

This year, it will fall on the 9th of June and everywhere, all over town, you will see people selling the dried bamboo leaves and the grass to tie the dumplings with. These would have to be soaked first before use and I would prefer the grass to those plastic nylon strings. All this while, there has been talk about the danger of boiling plastic and rumour had it that some people would melt plastic bags in the oil to fry the banana fritters (pisang goreng) and stuff to make them crispier and to prevent them from going limp after a while…and that made me wonder – wouldn’t boiling the dumplings tied with those strings for hours pose a danger to health as well?

As for the leaves, I heard that the dumplings wrapped in these bamboo leaves would keep longer – the ones wrapped in pandan (screwpine) leaves tend to go bad very quickly. That is why sometimes, you will see the dumplings wrapped with the bamboo leaf inside and the pandan leaves on the outside. I guess if you just wrap them in the bamboo leaves and add lots of pandan in the water while boiling, you can still get the much coveted fragrance as well.

We do have what we call the Hokkien Zhang all over town here – the dark coloured ones with the sauce from the stewed pork cooked and used for the filling but these days, those that I had bought, at RM2.50 each, turned out to be most disappointing. The taste was there but there would not be any sign of any meat in it. If you go for the salted egg ones, RM3.50 each, I think, you would be able to detect the taste of the salted egg but if you think you will get to see the salted egg yolk be it half of it or a quarter, dream on! As a matter of fact, salted egg isn’t all that expensive – around RM1.00 only for one whole egg. My missus loves this type but for me, it will have to be the nyonya zhang, no less – the ones with smaller chunks of meat, a little sweet (some people add finely-chopped water chestnuts but my friend, Richard, said he used winter melon or one of those sweet fruits) and the wonderful fragrance of ketumbar (coriander).

And talking about Richard, he dropped by my house the other night to pass me these…

Nyonya zhang from Richard

– his own homemade nyonya zhang, bless him for being always so considerate and so thoughtful as to remember me this time every year. He did not make any last year for some reason and this was the year before…and this was in 2013 and so on and so forth.

Of course, his would have a whole lot of meat inside…

Richard's nyonya zhang, lots of meat inside

…compared to those commercially-made Hokkien zhang and we can’t get these nyonya ones here, not at all, so that makes his extra special. I have seen some of those being sold outside in all shapes and sizes and even the tying with the grass string was so unsightly messy…and they do not even taste good! Probably everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, cashing on this festive season to catch unsuspecting victims who would end up buying as they do have much choice, being unable to make their own.

Of course, Richard’s has that perfect triangular cone, a true beauty…

Perfect cone

…and a testimony to his expert skill in tying these dumplings and see how the glutinous rice does not stick to the leaf…

Richard's nyonya zhang, does not stick to the leaf

…unlike some that I have bought from outside and I would have to scrape the rice off the leaf with a spoon to eat.

No, no, I did not eat them all at one go. The next morning, I just heated up two, one for me…

Richard's nyonya zhang

…and one for my missus for temporary relief, to appease the craving. I’m keeping the rest in the fridge for the actual day – otherwise, I will not have any to enjoy when the festival comes around.

Thank you so very much, Richard, for your lovely zhangs. It sure is an exclusively special honour and my utmost pleasure to receive them from you each year.