Image credit: Flickr

Sweet or Savory? One has an assortment of choices when it comes to purchasing ‘Bak Chang’ (rice dumplings).

The story of rice dumplings begins with the tale of Qu Yuan, a minister of state during the Warring States era of China who failed to prevent the invasion of his homeland. Out of grief, Qu Yuan killed himself by drowning in the Miluo River. Wanting to preserve his body, the public threw cooked rice wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river, believing that the fishes will eat the dumplings instead1. Fishermen also hit their oars against the water to scare the fishes away. This led to the annual dragon boat races and dumpling feasts.

Served during the Dragon Boat Festival2, dumplings are believed to be more than just a traditional Chinese food3.

Wrapped in bamboo leaves, the shape of rice dumplings varies. Some comes in a pyramid shape, while others are in cylinder form. Dumplings will consist of glutinous rice and varying fillings depending on the region. For example, some parts of Southern China may add an egg inside while Northern China fills it with red bean paste and taro to make sweet rice dumplings.

As traditions evolve over time, many have adapted and customized the flavors of their rice dumplings. Roasted duck and salted egg yolk4 are examples of “modern” poultry ingredients being used these days.

Similar to how rice dumplings are used to mark the celebration of Dragon Boat Festival, Indonesians prepare ‘Tumpeng’ (a local ceremonial dish) to celebrate joyous or significant events like Indonesia’s Independence Day5.
Originating from the Javanese culture6, Tumpeng acts as a symbol for gratitude and has been widely adapted in many Indonesian cities.

Credit: Flickr

Rice, the main ingredient, is shaped into a cone to symbolize a mountain. Surrounding it is a variety of cooked meat and vegetables that represents the life and harmony of nature. Side dishes vary depending on the occasion and region with items such as eggs being added to the mix.

For a traditional Tumpeng dish, eggs symbolize winged beasts like birds. However, in ‘Tumpeng Nujuh Bulan’ (a dish prepared for pregnant women during the 7 months), eggs are placed to signify the birth of life.

Poultry ingredients are used to signify land animals such as chicken and duck. A range of cooking styles is adopted when preparing these side dishes. From frying to grilling, the side dishes vary depending on the occasion. It could be ‘ayam goreng’ (fried chicken), shredded omelet or other favored Indonesian dishes.

Connecting the respective cooking traditions, Tumpeng was declared the country’s national dish in 20147. Ranging from being a vegetarian meal to including meats, poultry and seafood, Tumpeng was also listed as one of the 30 iconic Indonesian dishes by the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry in 20138.

1 Wikipedia. (2016). Zongzi. [online] Available at:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zongzi

2 Yoursingapore.com. (2016). Dragon Boat Festival. [online] Available at: http://www.yoursingapore.com/festivals-events-singapore/cultural-festivals/dragon-boat-festival.html

3 Bai, M. (2016). Zongzi, Traditional Snack for Dragon Boat Festival. Cits.net. [online] Available at: http://www.cits.net/china-guide/china-traditions/zongzi.html

4 Leong, C. (2016). 8 tastiest rice dumplings (bak chang) for 2015. herworldPLUS. [online] Available at:http://www.herworldplus.com/solutions/road-test/8-must-try-rice-dumplings-2015

5 f3nd1.com. (2012). Nasi Tumpeng – Its Meaning and Function – f3nd1.com. [online] Available at:http://www.f3nd1.com/2012/02/nasi-tumpeng-its-meaning-and-function/

6 BonAppetour. (2016). Nasi Tumpeng – A Celebratory feast![online] Available at:https://www.bonappetour.com/nadyanajosky/nasi-tumpeng

7 Natahadibrata, N. (2014). Celebratory rice cone dish to represent the archipelago. The Jakarta Post. [online] Available at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/02/10/celebratory-rice-cone-dish-represent-archipelago.html

8 Indonesia.gr. (2016). Indonesia’s thirty iconic dishes | Embassy of Indonesia, Athens. [online] Available at:http://indonesia.gr/indonesias-thirty-iconic-dishes