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Penang Nyonya Bak Chang (Rice Dumpling)


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Nyonya Bak Chang

Nyonya Sweet and Salty Rice Dumplings

The Dumpling Festival is approaching. It falls on the 5th day of the 5th Lunar month of the Chinese calendar. This year it falls on 30th May .

The Dumpling Festival has a legend behind it. The story goes like this… …

Once upon a time, there was a Chinese patriotic poet by the name of “Qu Yuan” who served the emperor in Chu Kingdom in ancient China. He was a good minister and was well-loved by the people. However, bad evil court officials were jealous of Qu Yuan’s abilities and they successfully influenced the weak-minded emperor to dismiss and exile him.

Feeling disheartened and angry, Qu Yuan tied himself to a rock and jumped into the Mi Luo river in Hunan province in order to protest against injustice and corruption. When the people get to know of his death, they rowed their boats to the river to look for his body. When they failed to find his body, they started beating their drums and making loud noises near the river hoping to scare the fishes and sea creatures away so that they will not feed on his body. Others started making rice dumplings to throw into the river believing that the sea creatures and fishes will eat their dumplings instead of Qu Yuan’s body. It might be a naive belief, but the emotions were heartfelt and sincere.

Since then, the 5th day of the 5th month of lunar calendar was set as ‘Duan Wu Jie’ (i.e. Dumpling Festival), to commemorate the incident.

Keeping this occasion in mind, every year during the 5th day of the 5th month, the Chinese worldwide celebrate the Dumpling Festival. Today, dumplings, or,’zong zi’ are no longer thrown into rivers, but people still eat them as a holiday tradition and testament to Qu Yuan’s self-determination.

During this day, it is also a tradition to organize the yearly dragon boat races and to eat dumplings. It is also a common practice to exchange dumplings (either home-made or bought) amongst close friends and relatives. In some countries like China, Taiwan and Singapore, dragon boat races are held to celebrate this occasion and to eat more dumpling.


As I am in the UK now, and not living in the big cities like London or Birmingham, I am making my own bak chang. Making bak chang is  tedious work and normally takes 2 days – one day for the preparation and one day to pack and cook it. So I am making extra to give to my friends. Dumplings are sold in the Chinese supermarkets, but it is very expensive. In Malaysia too, the price is getting dearer and dearer.

Where I come from, there are usually 2 types of dumplings –  the savouring ones and the crystal dumplings. The savouries come in a variety of fillings –  from pork, or chicken with mushrooms, chestnut, beans, etc. to vegetarians ones. The crystal dumplings are made with alkaline water, and served with syrup.

In Penang, we have the Penang Nyonya bak chang. This is unique in the sense that it is both sweet and savoury. My family has been making this type of bak chang since I can remember. When I was young, I did not realise that there are other types of bak chang other than the Nyonya type. So you see how unenlightened I was. Anyway, we learn new things as we grow.

I am sharing with  you the recipe which my mother used to make with me being the principal helper. It is a tough job and many people do not make it now. Working women do not have the time to make it unless one is crazy about cooking and food, just like me.

So here is my late mother’s recipe, recreated by me.

2 years ago, this was what happened:

Nyonya Bak Chang

Nyonya Sweet and Salty Rice Dumpling

This recipe makes about 25 to 30 pieces depending on the size of the dumplings. Our family have been making this dumpling as far as I can remember.

I used to help my mum in preparing all the ingredients, including grinding the spices with a granite grinder. This was hard work as dried coriander seeds is one of the most difficult to manually grind to a smooth and fine paste.

If you refer to most Nyonya cook books, the dumplings contain preserved winter melon pieces, and some even colour the rice with natural blue colouring from the pea flower, and some even add in coconut milk. But our family recipe has non of that. Ours is rather simple.

Since leaving home to attend college, I have not made this. So I am delighted that my first attempt is successful in recreating the original recipe!! Yee Haaahh!!!

So here is my family recipe.


Quick Info:

Level of difficulty: very difficult

Cost:  quite a bit. £££

Time: takes several hours to prepare and wrap, and preparation is a day before.

Yield: 25 to 30 pieces

This recipe is not for the faint-hearted. With some patience and love, you will get there.




1000g Glutinous rice- rinsed and soaked overnight
100g Black eyed peas – rinsed and soaked overnight
150g Groundnuts
250g Streaky pork belly (remove some of the fat if you wish, nett weight)
30g Coriander powder
1 Tbsp Cekor powder
1 Tbsp White pepper powder
150g Shallots
50g Garlic
1 Tbsp Light soy sauce
1 tsp Dark sauce soy
4 Tbsp Sugar
2 Tbsp Cooking Oil ( you can use more if you wish)
½  Tbsp Salt or to taste
150 g Bamboo leaves (dried)
75g Vine. Or enough string to tie. ( better to have a ball handy)



It is better if you prepare the ingredients the day before you want to wrap the dumplings.


Rinse and soak overnight or at least for 4 hours.

Black-eyed peas:

Rinse and soak overnight. Rinse and boil till tender. If you press it with your thumb and finger, it should yield.

Bamboo Leaves

Soak the bamboo leaves in hot water, leave it overnight or for 2 hours, and give it a wipe. Set aside.

Vine or strings

Tie the vine together and split it into several strands. Soak until it is soft. I used string as I did not have enough vine.

Peanuts Nuts

Dry roast in the oven or wok.  In a blender or food processor, grind the peanuts coarsely. In fact, a better way to grind the peanuts is to put in a plastic bag and bash it until it is quite coarse. Or you can use whatever method you fancy


Boil the pork until it is cooked, about 40 min. Remove and drain and cut onto ½ cm cubes

On the day:

Cook the black eye peas as above

Rinse and drain the rice.

The spices:

Blend the garlic and the onions. Add in the rest of the spices, including the coriander, cekur, white pepper.

To make the filling:

  1. Heat up a frying pan or wok and add about 2-3 tbsp of oil. (I am using less)
  2. Add in the spices and fry until it is fragrant.
  3. Add in the pork and fry the pork mixture for about 5 minutes until thoroughly mixed. Add in the seasoning and taste. There should be very strong sweet and salty taste.
  4. Finally stir in the peanuts/groundnuts and mix well and give it a final taste and adjust accordingly. Remove and set aside.

Prepare the rice:

  1. I actually cooked mine in a wok after I cooked the filling.
  2. Add the rice into the wok and toss.
  3. I then added 600 to 700 ml of water to it and stir till it is absorbed. Stir in the water in 2-3 times until the water is fully absorbed. This will make the dumpling cook faster.
  4. When the water is absorbed, add ½ tsp of salt and 40 ml of oil, and all the black eye peas. Mix thoroughly. The rice should still be grainy.

To wrap:                            

  1. Place 2 pieces of the bamboo leaves on top of each other, with opposite ends on top of the other. Fold to make a small cone.
  2. Place 1 tbsp of the rice mixture. Then add 1 tbsp of the filling. Top with 1 tbsp of the rice. Fold over the leaves and wrap into a pyramid shape secure with string.
  3. Repeat until you finish using all the ingredients.

Note: the amount you use will depend on the size of your dumpling.

You may have some left-over filling. You can freeze it and use it another time. Or, like me, I just serve it with rice with my meal.  Yum.

To cook the dumpling:

You can steam or boil the dumplings. If you do not have a big enough steamer, you can steam them in 2 lots or, you can boil them in a big pot, or 2 pots

To steam:

  1. Place in a steamer and steam for 1 hour, turning once to ensure even cooking.

To boil:

  1. Boil for about 1 hour with 1 tsp of salt in the water. Turn once to ensure even cooking,
  2. Lift out and drain.

(If you prefer a softer rice, boil for 1 ½ hours).

The dumplings can be served warm or cold.

In Malaysia, we can keep this for a few days without refrigeration. The dumplings keep well in the fridge for many days. It is recommended that you freeze the dumplings and heat them up in the microwave before serving.

#penang,#Nyonya, song zi, #Chinese, Malaysian, tradition
The dumpling stuffed with fillings.

Now after putting so much work, just rest and enjoy the dumplings.

I hope you are not put off by the various preparation steps. The result is worth it. I will give you the alkaline dumpling recipe in another post.

In the mean time, I hope you enjoy the dumplings. My first batch is almost gone now and I have to make it again. I plan to make the savoury dumplings later.

If you like my post, please like and share with your friends and family. If you think I have worked hard on this recipe, do share and like!! This is reward enough for me.

Many thanks for the patience in reading to the end.


Penang Lassie.




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1 Comment

  1. […] To have a better explanation regarding preparing the vine / string and the bamboo leaves, please refer to the post on Penang Nyonya Bak Chang. […]

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