Friday, November 5, 2010

Ba Tsang (Taiwanese Rice Dumplings)

I can't extol the deliciousness of rice dumplings enough. In Mandarin, they're called "Jungdz," but I prefer to use the Taiwanese term "Ba Tsang." There are many versions of Ba Tsang, depending on where you hail from, but I think my grandmother's is da bomb (and who doesn't think their grandma is the absolutest, bestest cook?). Regardless of the individual spins on this dish, the savory version ('cause there's also a sweet one) must always use glutinous rice, some kind of pork-based filling, and be wrapped in bamboo leaves. 

As a kid, I used to watch my grandmother make Ba tsang, so I have some recollection of the ingredients she would put into it (my mom also gave me some suggestions, even though Ba tsang is not her forte). So this is my remake of my Ah-ma's Ba Tsang. I've mentioned before that I totally suck at wrapping the rice in the bamboo leaves - the stuffing wants to come out and I can't tie the bundles together worth crap. But ultimately, I don't care so much about the aesthetics as I do the taste. 

Recipe makes 8-9 rice dumplings.
1 1/2 lbs. (4) braised pork bellies, cut into 1/2" slices (here's the recipe )*

8 dried shiitake mushrooms
1/4 cup dried shrimp
1 7-oz pkg. fresh bamboo shoots, drained & cut into 1/2" dice
4 tbsp. fried shallots
1 tbsp. 5-spice powder
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 cups of the reserved soy braising liquid from the pork belly

4 cups glutinous (sometimes called "sweet") rice
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup of reserved soy braising liquid from the pork belly (hopefully there's enough!)
1 tbsp. fried shallots
1/8 tsp. 5-spice powder
2 tsp. sesame oil

18 dried bamboo leaves

1. Wash & drain glutinous rice in cool water several times until water runs clear. Cover with fresh water and let soak at least 4 hours or overnight. 

2. Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in a medium bowl filled with hot tap water for at least 30 minutes. When mushrooms are soft, drain & place on a chopping board. Cut off the stems, and slice the caps. Set aside. 

3. Soak dried shrimp in a small bowl with hot tap water. When softened, drain and set aside.

4. Place dried bamboo leaves in the sink or a large container and cover with water. Let soak at least 2 hours or overnight. 

5. In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp. vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add sliced pork belly, shiitakes, dried shrimp, and bamboo shoots and saute together for a few seconds. Add 4 tbsp. fried shallots, 1 tbsp. 5-spice powder, 2 tsp. sesame oil, and 2 cups of the reserved braising liquid from the pork belly. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer about 20-30 minutes or until all ingredients have soaked in the flavors of the sauce. Turn off heat and set aside.

6. In the meantime, cook rice with 2 1/2 cups of water. When done (and while still hot) stir in 1 cup of the soy braising liquid, 1 tbsp. fried shallots, 1/8 tsp. of 5-spice powder, and 2 tsp. of sesame oil. Set aside.

7. To make the dumplings: Use 2 bamboo leaves per dumpling, slightly overlapping the leaves with the stem ends in opposite directions. Fold the leaves over to form a "cup." Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the rice mix in the "cup" portion of the leaves, top with a couple pieces of pork belly and about a spoonful of the rest of the filling.  Top with a couple more tablespoons of rice, then fold the bamboo leaves over to form a sort of triangular bundle. Then tie the whole shebang with some kitchen twine. 

I know that none of this makes much sense, so please refer to the below photos for clarification. But if that doesn't help, then you should check out Red Cook's "Secret of the Zongzi" post for a good illustration of the wrapping process: .

Soak glutinous rice for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Dried Shiitake mushrooms.

Dried shrimp.

Soak the dried mushrooms & shrimp in very hot tap water.

"Fresh" bamboo shoots (vacuum sealed). Available in the refrigerated section of most Asian markets. MUCH better than the canned stuff.

Cut bamboo into 1/2" dice and slice the softened Shiitake mushrooms.

Seasonings: Fried shallots, 5-spice powder, soy sauce, sesame oil.

Pot of braised pork belly.

Cut pork belly into 1" slices.

Strain braising liquid from the pork belly and set aside.

Dried bamboo leaves.

Cover bamboo leaves with water and soak for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Saute pork belly, shiitake, dried shrimp, bamboo shoots in 1 tbsp. oil.

Add 2 cups of the reserved braising sauce and remaining seasonings.

Simmer 20-30 minutes, until flavors are absorbed.

Place hot rice in a large skillet.

Mix in 1 cup of reserved pork braising liquid.

Add fried shallots & seasonings.

Bamboo leaves, in opposite directions.

Bend the leaves over from the bottom up to form a "cup."

Add 1 heaping tablespoon of rice to the "cup."

Add pork belly & a large spoonful of filling.

Top with another heaping spoon or two of rice.

Fold the leaves over.

Now there's some food bondage gone wrong.

Steam these guys for about 30 minutes. 

Good eats.

*You can substitute just regular soy braised pork for pork belly. 

Also, my grandmother often added chestnuts and dried oysters to her Ba Tsang, which are not included in this recipe. 

Other possibilities:
XO sauce
Dried scallop
Dried oysters

Btw, Ba Tsangs freeze well (put them in a Ziploc bag). To reheat, steam over high heat about 30 minutes. 


  1. Thank you very much for your recipe. I loved this dish when I lived in Taiwan as a child. This really brought back memories. I remember eating many different dishes late at night from the vendors and this was my favorite. We bought ours from a man who came around the neighborhood with a steam box on the back of his bicycle. We bought steamed char siu bao that way also and when we wanted noodles we'd take a pot to a vendor who parked his stall a block away from our apartment. We'd buy noodles with wonton and spicy peanut noodles. This was long ago, probably before your time.

    Yumi Yamamoto

  2. Hi Yumi, I'm so glad that this recipe brought back some memories! I have so many fond ones of the street food I grew up with in Taiwan. A few of my childhood favs include fresh soy bean milk and Chinese donuts for breakfast (do jiang & yiu tiao), stinky tofu, Shaolung bao, and seaweed rolls braised in soy (kombu). Your time may not be too far from my time either, as I was born in 1965 and even remember pedicabs (i.e., "rickshaws") from back in the day.

  3. nice food
    thank you for the recipe