May 30, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : The Making of Jerng ( Zhong Zi)

The Chinese celebrates the Duan Wu Zie every year to commemorate the death of a Chinese patriot Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC)who committed suicide . He was from the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty .

 It is also called the Dragon Boat Festival (端午節) On this day, children and adults as well, practice egg balancing.

A good traditional Chinese cook makes  rice dumpling using two bamboo leaves. Every side of the dumpling is a perfect triangle.  A jerng is actually a 3D, solid, consisting of three perfect triangles. Amazing, isn't it?
These are the bamboo leaves which come from China and appear a month before 5/5 every year so that Chinese housewives could start making the zhong zi for their children or grandchildren. It is a very tedious process to get the zhong zi finally on the table.

Memories of my Ngie Mah making Jerng in Lower Nang Chong

A few days before the Duan Wu Jie, my grandmother would check the Chinese calender and ask my Third Uncle to cut a few small trees to get ready for the fire. She would also ask him to prepare some cooking oil tins to boil the jerng.

The glutinous rice would be sorted out by her, grain by grain. This is one sight that really amazed me as a young student who was always in a rush. I would ask my grandmother why she had to do that. She said that for a good jerng to come from her hands, every rice grain must be pure glutinous rice. She would not let any inferior grain or tiny stone to be mixed with her glutinous rice. She was a perfectionist.

Usually a household would have about many gantangs (durn) of glutinous rice soaked over night in the Turng turng or aluminium pail.  But my grandmother would not soak the rice because the long hours of cooking over a wood fire would really make the rice very firm and well cooked.

Each "durn" or gantang is equalled to 14 milk tins (the smaller size). On the day of the preparation of the jerng, she would slice the belly pork, chop finely a few pieces of  lean pork, slice the soaked mushrooms, chop finely some garlic etc. She usually prepared five different types of jerng: red bean paste,plain(kee jerng), pork with mushrooms and chestnuts, lepers' jerng (red bean mixed with the rice) and peanut jerng. For every type of jerng she would have a coloured ribbon - white,green, blue,red, and yellow. She was the first person I knew who actually practised colour coding.
Kee Jerng
red bean (not the red bean paste)
Red beans are roughly mixed with the glutinous rice to create this look - Leper's jerng or bang turh jerng

The whole kitchen in Lower Nang Chong house would be busy. Aunt Nguk Ling would be getting the ingredients ready with my grandmother and she would also get the Foochow stove ready to boil the first few lots for those who would be coming home from rubber tapping and school!! Then my grandmother would sit down on the Landor (balcony) and start to KUI (wrap). She would have the five straws properly measured, tied into a knot in the middle. Ten straws would hang from a special long nail at the door post. Her pail of rice soaking in some water would be placed in front of her on a stool and she would sit on another stool. In no time, ten dumplings would hang from the post, with all the same lengths of straw. This set of 10 dumplings just look so perfect. Perfect as a picture I must say. My sister Sing would say that it was awesome that every dumpling was exactly the same. That was truly a classical example of how a simple, illiterate China born grandmother could make dumplings having identical size and shape, without the help of a machine.

Once my uncle's tins of water were boiling up my grandmother would ask Aunt Nguk Ling to bring the jerng to Third Uncle. The stove in the kitchen was just not enough to boil so many jerng.

 Some small logs were purposely not chopped up because they would burn slowly and surely. All jerngs must be boiled (sak) for more than THREE HOURS in order to be well cooked and "sak" adequately. In fact most of the time, Uncle would help grandmother look after the boiling process for the whole day. Jerngs made in this way would be very firm and most delicious.

Each cooking oil tin could boil as many as 6 DAI (each dai was 10 jerng tied together).  So when she had to make for so many families: my family, my Third Aunt's family (Chang Chung Ching) and my young Aunt's (Hii Wen Hui) and my Third Uncle, she had really had to be up early in the morning and tie as many as 20 Dai or more in order to make sure that every family would get at least 5 sets each. (That makes 50 jerng per family)

That is, she had to make about 200 jerng every festival. Sometimes more. The very next day, she would come to Sibu to distribute the jerng to her two daughters and Uncle Chung Ching. (Third Aunt passed away in 1956).

Grandmother ran her kitchen with the help of my Third Uncle and Third Aunty like a Michelin Starred kitchen, absolutely clean and tidy, and fast and furious. Everything was in place.

Once the jerng were cooked, they would be hung from bamboo poles in the kitchen, quite near the stove. Whenever we wanted to eat one, we would get permission to do so, and a pair of scissors would be given to us by grandma. We would choose our jerng with the filling that we like. Hence the colour coded dai of jerng enabled us to choose easily.

In those days, because we did not have many other kinds of snacks, the jerngs were just so delicious. We would eat slowly and every bite was heavenly. The jerngs if well boiled could last for days without refrigeration. I suppose if you were not born in those early days, before refrigeration, you might not believe me.

Also we could only eat jerng only during 5/5. Today, we could get commercial jerng 365 days a year!!

It is no wonder that my grandmother has the same position in our memories as Qu Yuan during the Duan Wu Jie. Her jerng would still be the best in the world. Just RIGHT!!

(memories are refreshed with the help of my sister Sing, who can wrap jerng very well, as taught by my grandma, and my cousin Kim Lau, from Nang Chong)



junglegirl said...

I can wrap "jerng" only in mid 80's when my late mum went to China, nobody at home could wrap except me even my SIL also couldnt do it. I tried out with the help of colleagues to teach me n till then I know now. When I was young, I could only watch and eat heartily as you wrote! Yes, the "jerngs" could last long due to the adding of the type of carbonate -- really 4gotten how to say now! Thank you for reminding the good old days!

Ensurai said...

Thanks for your comments. Memories can fade away. So we have to write them down. I wish I can write in Chinese too. Then the Chinese characters would come up in my post. God bless.

Anonymous said...

What carbonate is that? Is it Soda icarbonate used in baking and many other things?

Ensurai said...

It is alkaline water, available in Chinese medicine shop. Ask for the "element" which is used to make jerng with and the guy would give you the right one. Please ask about how much you need to add to the rice. Most people do not make this alkaline jerng now. And for other jerng people do not use any chemicals now.