It’s the fifth day of the fifth Lunar month this Wednesday; the day that we celebrate the Dumpling Festival. There is a story of how it’s to remember the day that villagers threw in dumplings into the river so that the fishes won’t eat this famous poet who was wrongly punished. The poet is unknown to me; all I know is that it’s the reason we have delicious dumplings every year.
There are many versions of dumplings, although it’s essentially made of rice. The one we have at home is made of glutinous rice, with belly pork, salted egg yolk, mushrooms, chestnut, and dried prawns. It’s not too heavy, as the dumpling would not be packed with too much glutinous rice.
In many Chinese homes, making dumplings is a family tradition. In my family, my sister Pamela is the one entrusted to wrap the dumplings because she does it best. My mother would prepare the ingredients, but she does the wrapping which is an art in itself. Pamela actually learnt it from a friend – she taught in remote Kapit, Sarawak and they had to make their own dumplings.
My grandmother tried to teach me how to wrap dumplings. She made me use fine sand instead of the actual rice. After I have tied it, she turns the dumplings round and round – if the sand comes out, it means it is not properly done and I have to start all over again. It’s important because the dumplings are boiled, and water is not supposed to enter into the casing. I obviously failed the test, and have yet to master the art.
My sister can even tie the dumplings with one hand, and it has to be a live knot so that it’s easy to unravel. And she uses hemp strings, not plastic raffia strings because it’s chemical-free and safer for consumption.
These days, we only make enough for the family. But some people make enough to distribute dumplings to their relatives and friends.
We used to look forward to my late grand-aunt’s dumplings. She was the typical wealthy matriarch – the doyen in a family of 13 or 15 children, and maybe 50 grandchildren. She has shoulder length permed hair, and always puts on lipstick and painted her toenails with bright colours. She chain smokes, and is at the Turf Club every weekend.
When she comes in her Mercedes for our great grandparents’ death anniversary prayers, she’d bring the biggest pears and oranges, and durians. She was real generous, and no one made bigger and fatter dumplings than her. Best of all, her dumplings are filled with pig’s trotters – I haven’t had dumplings like that since.
The other dumpling I like is kee chang, yellow dumplings with alkaline water. They are small and dainty, and are eaten with palm sugar syrup. I haven’t had those in awhile too.
Anyway, enjoy the dumplings this Wednesday, wherever you are and whatever variety you like. I like my dumplings with Lingham chilli sauce.