June 5, 2011

Duan Wu Festival and my Grandmother's Colour Coding System

Qu Yuan
Qu Yuan

Qu Yuan (Chinese: 屈原; pinyin: Qū Yuán) (ca. 340 BCE – 278 BCE) was a Chinese scholar and minister to the King from the southern Chu during the Warring States Period. His works are mostly found in an anthology of poetry known as Chu Ci. His death is traditionally commemorated on the occasion of the Duanwu Festival (端午节/端午節), which is commonly known in English as the Dragon Boat Festival or Double Fifth (fifth day of the fifth month of the traditional Chinese calendar).

Qu Yuan suffered from depression caused by political intrigues and corrupt practices. After losing the ear of the king he went into further depression. This upright man in favour of negotiating with neigbhouring countries and forming friend alliances failed in making his proposals heard and saw the downfall of his beloved country.

In 278 BC, learning of the capture of his country's capital, Ying, by General Bai Qi of the state of Qin, Qu Yuan is said to have written the lengthy poem of lamentation called "Lament for Ying" and later to have waded into the Miluo river in today's Hunan Province holding a great rock in order to commit ritual suicide as a form of protest against the corruption of the era.

The folk lore related the stories of how the local people wanted to save his body from being eaten by fish. They made rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves for the fish as offerings.

Today many Chinese continue to pay homage to Qu Yuan an honest and loyal minister. However it is the making of dumplings which is has a longer impact on Chinese cuisine and it has really become a much honoured cuisine (and skill) throughout China and amongst the overseas Chinese.

This festival would remind me of the amazing hands of my maternal grandmother Lian Tie who could make more than 20 DAI's (l dai = 10 changs or zhong zi) of chang with different fillings for her children and grandchildren. Grandma would come to our house in Brooke Drive and start preparing the glutinous rice two evenings before the festival. She would pick any inpurities from the rice and by the time the rice was ready we could see that it was remarkably clean and pure.

And one day before the festival while many other relatives would prepare the different fillings throughout the day and make the dumplings my grandmother did it her way. She would wash the rice and had her fillings gotten ready. She would tie the dumplings which would all be the exact size actually sitting near the back door. The straws would hang from a long nail at the door post and she would methodically wrap and tie all the dumplings have them boiled in our huge kuali. By afternoon we would eat the beautiful and fragrant dumplings. Without refrigeration her rice dumplings could remain fresh for at least a week. She would hang them from bamboo poles stretched across our spare room. Each time we desired a dumpling we would ask for one and cut from the different dai's of our choice.

Grandmother would ask us to distribute the rice dumplings amongst the children of her two other daughters who lived in Sibu. I am wondering if my cousins can remember this.

Her fillings were (a) red beans (b) meat with mushrooms (c) meat with salted eggs (d) peanuts. She also made a special Kee Chang (which is pure glutinous rice with just a bit of salt to taste). She also made another kind of Chang called Leper's Chang (to make us very cheerful). this chang was actually just glutinous rice mixed with cooked red bean or cooked peanuts. When eating these we bit into the beans or nuts and by appearance they were very rough to look at.

She would cook these zong zi (changs) in batches and all of them would have a coloured tag for easy recognition.

I believe my grandmother must be a great "categoriser" of her day. She was already knowledgeable in colour coding!!

At times like this you want to wish that grandmothers last forever!!


Anonymous said...

when young time,i can take 3 or 4 bakchan(dumplings) in a day - not now. probably getting old already,stomach bloating after just 1 dumpling.

- Ah Ngao

sintaicharles said...

My Mom taught me how to tie bak-chang many years ago but I have forgotten how to do it. At one that I tied too tight(or too loose) that the filling all burst out while cooking. She told me she would teach me when I visit her in Brunei.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao...when we get older glutinous rice is not really good for us. Now that I am in Miri I usually go and buy a few and share with friends. Enjoy one or two with tea or coffee. Most unChinese...I no longer prepare a Duan Wu Jie feast.

I thnk 4 bakchan at one seating is a big much but for a young strong man I suppose it is no sweat!!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Charles...you must learn from you mum again...a tip from my grandma...no need to soak the rice and just cook the dumplings slowly...I think it is a great skill to wrap the bamboo leaf properly....Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

nowadays,no one has really got the time to make whtever chang we need cos of the double income where the wife has work to supplement the income.Those days we virtually lived on a very basic lifestyle....rice and food on tables.So making chang now is a dying skill.

Uncle Lee said...

Hi Sarawakiana, I sure miss eating these. There are being sold in Chinese supermarkets, everyday too, but I prefer the homemade ones.
My wife doesn't make them....
Oh well....
Have fun, keep well.

Anonymous said...

How long can a chang last after they are taken out of the boiling water? I suspect w=very long time and the chang tied in such a way makes them very sterile and last long.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous..You are right about the double income earning families where the wife works both outside the home and at home playing different kidns of roles. And any way enterprising people have already make inroads by bringing rice dumplings to the market..In Miri there are some women vendors who walk from shop to shop selling their home made kuih with children tagging behind. So instead of just sitting at home and minding the children they peddle their products ...perhaps this is also a good way for their children to learn business at an early age....Kudos to the women who work so hard.
Making of chang(zhong zi) may be a dying art...but chefs do teach them at their schools..in KL etc..and of course on TV

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Uncle Lee...thanks for dropping by..your wife is lucky!!Think of the massive amount of ingredients in your kitchen and soaking bamboo leaves and the making and boiling of 200 dumplings for the whole extended family....Wow!!

The only time I made dumplings at home was during one holiday when my children were quite small. I had a male colleague to come buy to wrap them because he could show me the mathematical way of doing it. Well several of the batch I made burst at the seams.
In later years I made Lor Mai Kai instead...almost the same taste and different presentation.
Different people different ways....diversity!!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous...a chang can last about a week in the past...Have never tried airing them in the old ways.

And any way I have only been buying one or two nowadays. Perhaps I should try to make a batch and hang them from a bamboo pole in my spare room and check how long they can last.

My mother used to say food goes bad very quickly nowadays...global warming.

Ann said...

Last Sat, our church's Asian outreach grouped organised the DOUN U jie, I wasn't there as I had a speaking engagement.

I told the chairman is too mcu work for his wife to make too many. I said my alternative was to make two casserole of NOI MAI Fan, because I didn;t use soay sauce, the white was very white, and not appetisting, not people went for it.

Ann said...

sorry comment went before editing, guess you can decipher what I was going to say.

Your Wai Po was like my Wai Poh. She used to come and make all sorts of cakes. My Ah Po had died, and the step Ah Po just wasn't the same.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

hAHAHAHA Ann....I understand exactly how you felt...a busy lady would have to think of alternatives...I love Noi Mai fan (lo mai kai)..I do that too..but my kids ate it..no complaints because there would have been no alternative....

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ann
Teachers are able to decipher almost anything and do great estimations. My Ngie Mah or Wai Poh was the best...and I suppose your Ah Poh was too...Let's keep our good memories of them strong.cheers.

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