Rice dumpling is a Chinese festive food for 端午节, duan wu jie, which occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month in the lunar calendar. The story goes where a loyal poet屈原 committed suicide by drowning himself in the river, and the people not wanting the fish to eat up the dead body while they are searching for it, threw rice dumplings from dragon boats into the river to feed the fishes. That was how dragon boat racing and rice dumpling comes about during this festival.
Wrapping the rice dumpling is probably the most difficult step in making your own rice dumpling. We will try to teach you using some steps with the help of a sequence of photos taken of my mom’s hands doing it this year.
First to set up a cone using the bamboo leaves. Starting with 2 leaves, overlap them such that you get a longer overall length (around 40 cm or more) and possibly a wider overall width (around 10 cm) by overlapping 1 higher than the other (you can see that in Figure 1 and 2) , with the softer tip pointing inside so that the harder stem is at the ends (Figure 1). Make sure that there are no holes or breakages after overlapping them (that is why 2 leaves are needed as you will not likely find a perfect leaf and overlapping cover each other’s defects). Then form a cone by first folding it upwards to form a V shape (Figure 2 to 3), and at the same time fold a small portion (1 cm) of the edge further from you to the side, while moving the edges further from you of the left and right side to meet in the center (figure 4), and eventually overlapping each other in the middle to form a cone (Figure 5). You will get a cone “cup” (Figure 6) where the tip at the bottom has no opening as you have make a small 1 cm fold in figure 4.
Next step is easy, filling up the cone with ingredients. First 1 spoon of rice, followed by fillings, and then top up with another scoop of rice (each scoop is about 1 Chinese table spoon. (Figure 8-12)
Next, this step is the challenging one, folding it to make a triangular shape dumpling. Remember a dumpling has 4 pointed corners, and each flat face is a shape of a triangle. The 1st corner is already form by now, which is the tip of the cone you are holding. Hold the cone on your left hand. Observe Figure 12 and 13, holding the cone like holding a cup with the long flap away from you or slightly towards the right. With your right hand, push and fold down the flap (Figure 13). Then using your thumb and index finger of the right hand (or include the middle finger as well), form pincer to push down the 2 sides (Figure 14). This action will form the 2nd and 3rd corners. The last corner will form where the long flap is now on. With your right hand pincer with your thumb and index finger grip on the dumpling, and that is the “waist” of the dumpling (the place where you will tie the string).
Hold it secure at the waist with your right hand (not too tight but not allowing it drop), and release your left hand (figure 15 and 16) to change your grip of the left hand on the dumpling by turning the dumpling on your right hand to have the flap pointing upwards, and then grip the “waist” with your left hand, again using a pincer form with your thumb and index finger plus middle finger. Now the original tip of the corner you started off with is now pointing upwards and resting on the groove between your left hand thumb and index finger (figure 17-18). Then with your left hand gripping the waist, release your right hand and pinch the top flap (figure 19) and fold it down (figure 20) and that forms the 4th (last) corner of the dumpling. As your left thumb will be below the leaf, re-position it out and re-grip the waist (figure 21 22). Up to this point, you are done and now ready to tie it up in the next step.
With your left hand still gripping the dumpling, use your right hand to get a string and loop it round twice the waist of the dumpling that you are holding without letting go the left hand (figure 23). Pull the string down to tighten it (like tightening the belt), and note that the circumference of the waist will narrow slightly. This is important so that the string will not slip off during cooking. Keeping the string taut, make a knot (figure 24), and then another to make a dead knot or live knot (figure 25).