I’ve been suffering from mild migraine this evening after work. But, I don’t simply bow down to that. Coming home, seeing my beloved family again, and being able to visit fellow bloggers can be such a blessing to life. I’m tired. Still, I feel motivated enough to march on with all the love and support I’ve been receiving.
On the Chinese calendar (農曆), the Fifth Day of the Fifth Month (五月初五) is when Chinese all over the world would observe the Dragon Boat Festival (端午節). This year, this meaningful day fell on June 16, which was yesterday. (Pei-Lin always likes to take her own sweet time. That’s why she’s so damn slow and late in everything. *Sigh*) When I was in elementary school, I remember I’d be told of such a legend. Well, I won’t go into detail as I can’t recall everything. In a gist, this was how the story went.
During the Warring States Period (戰國時代) of the ancient China, there was a patriotic scholar and politician who went by the name of Qu Yuan (屈原). He came from the state of Chu (楚國). He loved his country so much obviously; however, he held opinion that was the opposite of other fellow Chu politicians. Somehow, after all the glitches and whatnot, he got into serious conflict with other politicians. Some evil ministers became jealous of and thus framed him. So, he ended up getting fired and in an exile (for good). Throughout these years, he dedicated himself to literary work; however, he was not freed from the deep anguish, compassion and sorrow he felt for his fellow countrymen as he witnessed the downfall of Chu in the hands of those venal ministers. While he was disempowered from doing anything, he felt helpless and hopeless. Upon hearing the seize of Chu by Qin (秦國), the state which eventually brought the divided China under one ruling, Qu felt depressed and subsequently waded himself into the Miluo River (汨羅河) in the Hunan (湖南) province. The suicide took place on the Fifth Day of the Fifth Month of the Chinese calendar. (I've also heard that he jumped into the said river and ended his own life by drowning himself in the rapid, merciless current.)
My aunt's Malaccan Nyonya-style glutinous rice dumpling, homemade, with pork filling. Some of the glutinous rice used is tainted purplish blue with the butterfly pea flower (or bunga telang in Bahasa Malaysia).
So, we commemorate the great Poet on this day, which is now known as the Dragon Boat Festival. But, why are all the glutinous rice dumplings (粽子)? According to the Chinese folklore, the people worried about Qu’s body being eaten up by underwater creature. (I know it sounds ridiculous, but I heard that the creature were turtles! Some said fish. Whatever that might be; unless, my memory is trying to fool me, which can be possible.) So, the people made and threw gobs of rice dumplings into the Miluo River to stuff the creature up real well. Now, that’s why we are stuffing ourselves up with rice dumplings during this time of the year.
This year, I had my first Dragon Boat Festival back home since I returned from the States last August. I personally think that as a Chinese, and to be a good mother and wife, I should learn how to make rice dumplings. Actually, I love doing so. I didn’t have the opportunity to pick up such skill while I was a college student in the U.S. as there’s no Asian grocer in that obscure little town I once lived in. Knowing that I’m now home, I called up one of my aunts and asked if I could be an apprentice. (我要上山拜師咯！)
My aunt lives in Malacca (or Melaka, 馬六甲), which is where my Teochew (潮州人) mom would call home. My goal of that southbound trip was to pick up the basics of wrapping rice dumplings. So, just 3 days ago, I took a 2-day annual leave and traveled for 2 hours down from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca.
(Well, I also intended to spend quality time with my 70-year-old aunt, whom I last met during Lunar New Year. I’m glad I did! I had fun chatting and learning so much from her! Love you, Great Aunt 大姨媽! Oh, did I tell you it was also a sweet getaway from the city? It’s been ages since I last slept till 10-ish in the morning …)
“We shall make Cantonese pork-and-salted yolk rice dumplings,” I begged her. “No, we’ll stick to my original plan,” she replied. Think Malacca, think of the Baba and Nyonya (峇峇娘惹). We churned out close to a dozen of Nyonya-style rice dumplings (娘惹式粽子). With the surplus of marinated (long-grain) glutinous rice (長糯米), we turned the rest into Teochew-style savory rice dumplings (潮式鹹粽). According to my mom, these are known as “giam zang,” which is pronounced as “GHEE-ahm ZAH-ng” in the southern Chinese dialect of Teochew (潮州話).
No Cantonese pork-and-salted yolk rice dumpling (粵式鹹蛋豬肉粽) for me this year. Too bad, as a Cantonese (廣府人), this very dumpling is the one I grew up with. I simply love the bits of lard and meat amid the chewy stickiness. Mmm … But seriously, I’m not a fussy eater. I’m happy with just about any rice dumplings. At the end of the day, I happily gobbled down three Malaccan Nyonya rice dumplings. *Burp* (Of course, not in one sitting, I swear.)
After an evening of hands-on lesson and practice, to tell you that I’ve successfully picked up the skill of wrapping rice dumplings seems to be too early. My aunt has been wrapping rice dumplings for close to 20 years. She gave me golden advice before I departed: This is a skill that will take me years of practice, patience, trial and error to master. In fact, this is true in whatever we pursue. On top of that, she encourages me to observe and learn from others. She reminded me of not to expect an overnight success out of myself. Thank you once again, Great Aunt!
That’s about it for my Dragon Boat Festival experience this year. My family, especially my mom, have been pestering me to make rice dumplings since I got back. My mom loves her lye-water rice dumplings (鹼水粽) with either kaya or palm sugar syrup (sirup gula melaka). These rice dumplings, as the name implies, are treated with (edible) alkaline lye water; hence, the signature yellowish hue.
Though I have yet to officially wrap any rice dumpling that I can call my own, I’d like to share with you one of my all-time favorites: Cantonese-style fried chicken with lemon sauce (西檸煎軟雞). Well, don’t we all have some sort of reunion dinner on a special day like the Dragon Boat Festival?
The lemon chicken I made when I was still a college student in the States. I didn't use custard powder at that time as I couldn't source any in the States; hence, the dull color of the lemon sauce here.
Since I don’t get to have Cantonese rice dumpling this year, I’ll just rant on about something Cantonese. Haha! I have made this fusion dish a few times since my college days in the States. This classic Cantonese treat never fails to amaze me. It’s easy to execute; however, the following recipe is only for reference, which is typical of Chinese home cooking. Do note that the custard powder (吉士粉) is there to provide some flavor and that beautiful
Fresh-off-the-stove crisp fried chicken, coated in generous amount of sweet and sour lemon sauce. It’s that brief tangy spike, that citrus sweetness … that render you bursting with greater and greater appetite all at the same time! Pairing this ultimate sensation with the tender, succulent chicken, you’ve put yourself in finger-licking goodness! Yum!
I hope this post didn’t come too late for the Dragon Boat Festival. Still, even if it did, here’s to wish everyone a Happy Dragon Boat Festival! 在此恭祝大家端午節快樂！Hope you’ve had a great one, like mine!
Cantonese-Style Fried Chicken With Lemon Sauce 西檸煎軟雞
Adapted from Siukwan's
450 g chicken thighs and/or drumsticks -- washed to clean, then drained well and cut into smaller pieces
* I let the butcher cut up the chicken for me. I only did the cleaning and whatnot after I got back from the farmers' market. Don't remove the skin! For the health-conscious, this dish is perhaps not for you, unfortunately. *
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp granular chicken bouillon 雞粉 -- optional
1/2 Tbsp Shaoxing cooking wine 紹酒
Ground white pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp slightly beaten egg
Enough cornstarch, for coating the chicken pieces upon frying
Enough cooking oil, for frying the chicken pieces
1/3 cup (78 mL) water
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
* Don't even think of using bottled lemon juice! Fresh one DOES make a difference! *
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 Tbsp custard powder 吉士粉
1 tsp cornstarch
- Combine (A) together and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes or so.
- Once the chicken has been marinated, coat the chicken pieces with cornstarch thoroughly and evenly.
- In a wok/skillet/something similar, over medium heat, heat up a fair bit of cooking oil just enough to almost submerge the chicken pieces. Once the oil is hot enough, lower the heat slightly and fry the chicken pieces (半煎炸方式) till they are golden brown and cooked through -- turning the chicken halfway through the cooking process to fry and cook the other side too. Once the chicken is fried till golden brown, dish it out and drain off the excess oil. Then, transfer it onto a paper towel-lined plate (or something similar, as long as it's lined with paper towel). Set aside.
When it comes to frying chicken, too high of a heat will have the outside of the chicken cooked too fast while the inside still remains, sort of, uncooked.
- For the lemon sauce, whisk (B) together to combine. Then, pour the mixture into a small saucepan/something similar, and bring it just to a boil over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat. Next, dump the fried chicken pieces into the sauce and toss to coat them up well. Dish out onto a serving plate.
- Serve the lemon chicken hot!