My grandfather used to make joong – tamale-like packets of glutinous rice, meat, and other goodies wrapped in bamboo leaves – that I loved to eat. They are available in Chinese supermarkets, but they never quite have the wonderful fillings that my grandpa included in his. So I was delighted when Angela Liu’s mother, Wan, offered to teach Katie Chio and me how to make them. Wan’s family came from the same area of China as my grandpa, but her joong were Malaysian style, made in a different shape and with different fillings from the traditional Cantonese joong. Still, I was eager to learn so I could later include the fillings I remembered when I made my own.
The Malaysian joong are tetrahedral in shape – with 4 equal triangular sides – instead of the elongated pillow shape of the Cantonese versions, and they are filled with a mixture of diced pork belly, shrimp, Chinese mushrooms, and ground coriander. The tricky part about making these joong is the wrapping of the bamboo bundles. Katie was a star student, picking up the technique quickly, but the one lesson wasn’t enough for me to perfect my wrapping technique; it will take more practice for me to replicate the tightly wrapped bundles that Wan created. Still, they turned out quite deliciously and despite the different filling ingredients, brought back fond memories of my grandpa’s joong.
1/2 packet bamboo leaves
5 pounds long-grain sweet rice
5 shallots, sliced
1/2 cup oil
5 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 pounds pork belly, with skin removed, diced
8 ounces dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked in hot water, and diced
dried shrimp (optional)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons white pepper
salt, pepper, and sugar to taste
Wash and soak the rice for two hours.
Take about 75 dried bamboo leaves and boil them in a large pot of water for 30 minutes to soften them. Cut off the tough stem ends of the leaves. Wash the leaves. Soak them again in cool water to keep them soft.
Sauté the shallots in oil until brown. Drain the rice. Stir in salt and shallot cooking oil.
Prepare string to tie joong by making a bundle of five strings, each 2 feet long, tied together with a loop at the end. Make 8 bundles. Place the loop of one bundle around a supporting hook, with space below it to place and tie a joong.
Now the tricky part: wrapping. Probably best understood by watching the process in the following videos. I’ve provided 3 videos of Wan making 4 joong to provide different perspectives and clarify points of the wrapping process.
Place two bamboo leaves together, overlapping by about two thirds, with the smooth side of the leaves facing up. Fold the leaves to the side and up, about 1/3 way up, to form a pointed pocket, cradled in your left hand. Put 2 heaping tablespoons rice into the pocket, then 3 heaping tablespoons filling, then top with 2 heaping tablespoons rice, filing the pocket.
Fold the top down across the rice packet. Tuck down the left, then right edges of the top leaves, cradling the outside of the packet. Bring the sides of the top leaves together and wrap around to the right of the packet.
Take one strand of string and wrap it around the joong twice. Make a square knot, tightening the tie by pulling against the string supported by the hook.
Continue wrapping joong with the remaining leaves, rice, and filling.
Boil a large kettle of water. Place the joong into the water and return water to a boil. Lower the heat and gently simmer the joong for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size and density of the joong.
Cut string, unwrap joong, and discard the leaves & string. Serve.
Cooked joong may be refrigerated or frozen. Thaw, steam to reheat and serve.
Warm joong can also be sliced, flattened, coated with a beaten egg, and browned in a fry pan.
May be served drizzled with oyster sauce.