The dragon festival is drawing near and my daughter misses the nyonya version. I have never made the nyonya version before, so it is high time to try. I drove an hour looking for candied winter melon, to no avail.
So, I bought a fresh winter melon and took 2 days to candy it. The happiest thing about this batch of dumpling is probably the homemade candied winter melons, which taste fresh and wonderful!
The dragon boat festival is a special occasion in Singapore when I was growing up. We would make these dumplings and distribute them to relatives. I can still remember my rich second aunt giving us dumplings with salted egg yolks. That was such a luxury, then. Prior to that, I didn’t think rice dumplings had egg yolks!
Today, we can buy all sorts of dumplings from the stalls. Our children can get the most premium dumplings easily, but it is rare to find a family that still does this together as a family. I hope that my children will continue the tradition of making these dumplings, sharing them with family and friends like we did, and living the tradition. You should too.
The only person who was able to make rice dumplings in our nuclear family was my dad, and my mum fails to this day to create a dumpling. I can still remember how my mum and dad experimented with making dumplings when I was still little.
They failed many times, and the rice would fall out when they boiled the dumplings. From their conversations, I learned that the water must be well salted so as not to dilute the rice dumplings which are wrapped in porous bamboo leaves. I saw how my father refused to give up and finally learned how to make the rice dumplings the Singapore style. The dumplings my paternal grandma made were pillow dumplings and were tied differently.
Once he mastered the rice dumpling, I saw the magic of innovation in my late father. He was the most innovative and brilliant person I have ever met in my entire life. You could bring him to eat anything and the dish would reappear on our table. You could show him any art piece, and he would replicate it at home with the cigarette boxes he strung together.
His rice dumplings could never be bought anywhere. He made them with duck, fish, interesting concepts and flavours: anything he fancied. He adjusted the taste and changed the way we looked at rice dumplings. Every year, he gave us a surprise with a new twist to his dumpling.
1 kg Glutinous Rice, soaked in mildly salted water overnight and drained
50 Bamboo leaves, boiled till soft and then wiped dry
4 Tbsp Cooking oil
1 kg Pork (leg meat or spare ribs), cut into cubes
200g Candied melon, diced
75 Cashew nuts (whole and toasted), 3 for each dumpling (my kids don't like chestnuts
10 Dried Mushrooms, soaked, stalks removed and diced
1/2 cup Stock
3 Pandan leaves (cut into squares)
3 Tbsp Black Soya sauce
3 Tbsp Soya sauce
1 Tbsp Sugar
15 cloves Garlic
30 Shallots or 8 big onions
6 Tbsp Coriander seed powder
1 Tbsp Star Anise powder (optional - my kids hate this)
A lot of water
Pandan leaves (tied 3 to a bunch)
- Grind the spice mixture together.
- Heat up a pot/wok with 2 Tbsp of oil.
- Cook half the spice mixture, and then add the rice. Fry till well mixed and ensure it is well seasoned. Don't cook the rice now. Set aside.
- Heat up a different pot/wok with another 2 Tbsp of oil.
- Fry the rest of the spice mixture, and add the pork, candied melons, mushrooms, black soya sauce, soya sauce, sugar and the stock. Cook till all the gravy has dried up.
- Gather and put the rice dumplings together. See video below.
- In the pressure cooker, boil a pot of heavily salted water.
- Lower a bunch of 10 dumplings into the water, ensuring the dumplings are all covered in water.
- Cook under pressure for 20 minutes.
- When done, drain the dumplings of excess water. Makes 24. This can be served immediately or when cooled. (please do not eat the bamboo leaves)