Sunday, June 12, 2016

A tale of two bah-chang's

[post title with apologies to Charles Dickens and his 'Tale of Two Cities', wakakaka]

MM Online - In Sungai Besar, the war of the two dumplings

Glutinous rice dumplings in Northern Peninsula Malaysia are known as bah chang (literally meat dumpling). It should NOT be spelt in romanised letters as bak chang, as is seen on the web because there's no 'k' sound at the end of the word bah.

If one were to use and pronounce the word 'bak' with a 'k' sound (like 'bark'), in Penang Hokkien that would mean either eye or Chinese ink stick.

Ba chang is not so bad but it lacks the 'h' sound at its end. Anyway, the Mandarin word is Zongzi.

The bamboo leaves-wrapped dumpling is cooked by steaming or boiling and eaten on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar-solar calendar, sometimes referred to as the Double Five festival.

Wikipedia tells us (Wiki is convenient for me because I don't have to write the narration, the same as I know it):

A popular belief amongst the Chinese of eating zongzi involved commemorating the death of Qu Yuan, a famous Chinese poet from the kingdom of Chu who lived during the Warring States period. Known for his patriotism, Qu Yuan tried unsuccessfully to warn his king and countrymen against the expansionism of their Qin neighbors.

When the Qin general Bai Qi took Yingdu, the Chu capital, in 278 BC, Qu Yuan's grief was so intense that he drowned himself in the Miluo river after penning the Lament for Ying.

According to legend, villagers carried their dumplings and [row their dragon] boats to the middle of the river and desperately tried to save Qu Yuan after [they heard] he immersed himself in the Miluo but were too late to do so.

However, in order to keep fish and evil spirits away from his body, they beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles, and they also threw rice into the water both as a food offering to Qu Yuan's spirit and also to distract the fish away from his body. ..... the legend continues, that late one night, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared before his friends and told them that he died because he had taken himself under the river. Then, he asked his friends to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages to ward off the dragon.

These packages became a traditional food known as zongzi, although the lumps of rice are now wrapped in leaves instead of silk. The act of racing to search for his body in boats gradually became the cultural tradition of dragon boat racing, held on the anniversary of his death every year.

Today, people still eat zongzi and participate in dragon boat races to commemorate Qu Yuan's sacrifice on the fifth day of the fifth month of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. The countries around China, such as Vietnam and Korea, also celebrate variations of this Dragon Boat Festival as part of their shared cultural heritage.

Indeed, Japan, Korea, Singapore and the Chinese in Malaysia, not forgetting Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as well, also celebrated dragon boat festival which has always been associated with bah chang.

Dragon boat racing has become so popular that these are held annually in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. I am not sure whether it's also held in Britain.

It's a festival commemorating respect and love for Qu Yuan, one of China's greatest patriots, the other famous one being General Yue Fei in the later Song Dynasty.

Qu Yuan 

Though to be frank, today's Chinese are more interested in the dragon boat racing per se and the consumption of the delicious bah chang.

Bah chang as I knew it in my young days came in two forms, savoury and sweet. The savoury version prepared by Chinese was not halal because it consisted of glutinous rice with fillings comprising pork, chicken, shiitake mushroom, Chinese chestnut, all sorts of beans, etc, all wrapped in bamboo leaves.

The sweet (non-savoury) version may be considered as halal though of course technically halal is more than just the absence of pork and other ingredients prohibited by Muslim dietary code. But the sweet version is just plain glutinous rice withOUT fillings wrapped aso in bamboo leaves, and eaten (after steaming it) with thick syrup. My late mum made the best sweet bah chang I have ever tasted. She did it with Straits nyonya finesse.

the sweet version 

Recently I heard of an incident in which an African American ate a bah chang given to him by a Chinese matey. His comments were: "Nice rice and fillings but the vegetables are too undercooked and tough".

The 'vegetables' he was referring to were the bamboo leaves wrapping, wakakaka.

In Malaysia, specifically in Sungai Besi and Kuala Kangsar where two by-elections will be taking place, two Islamic parties, namely, PAS and its splinter group, Amanah, are both competing with UMNO to be the federal representatives for the two constituencies. UMNO is of course defending its status quo as the party which won in these two constituencies in the 2013 general elections.

Ironically because the Chinese represent 25% and 30% of voters in Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar respectively, the two Islamic parties which want their votes (PAS had theirs in 2013 GE) have gone 'native' wakakaka in conjunction with the Chinese celebration of 5-5 (Double 5) or Fifth Moon Festival by making and handing out halal bah changs to the locals in their walk-around campaigns.

wish I was there to take from both parties, wakakaka, and eat the dumplings with a jolly splash of Lingham sweet chilli sauce, yum!

Happily coincidental for Amanah, its party symbol has a triangular shape and resembles a 2-dimensional bah chang, so DAP vice president Teresa Kok and Ng Suee Lim DAP ADUN for Sekinchan capitalised on that by informing the locals to consider Amanah as the bah chang party, to help them become familiar with Amanah candidate Azhar Abdul Shukur.

Teresa said: “People normally see our face (DAP leaders) and they associate it with the rocket logo. But, this time we told them to vote for the orange party, which has a logo that resembles the halal bak chang. Undilah parti bak chang.”

Though the two donors of halal bah changs are Islamic parties, I wonder which will the Chinese favour more, not that I have dismissed BN from the final result. But I suspect Amanah will be happy to come out as No 2 in the results, ahead of its PAS archfoe.

Mind, I suspect UMNO hasn't handed out bah chang because it must have feel such a gimmick would be a wasted effort and unnecessary expense as it has probably already written off Chinese support, wakakaka.



  1. To the chinese voters, it's party bah chang, so it will be parti ketupat to the malays eh?

    My cousin's wife is a nyonya from melaka, she will cook upon our request bah chang kueh, halal of course, makan dgn sos cili cap tupai. Moh tak th'ng (correct spelling?)

    1. very good but moe tak teng would be better, not that I'm better than you in Canto, wakakaka

      but bah chang is sufficient without adding the word kueh to it because the chang covers that

      and yes, I love ketupat too as well pulut inti, kueh talam, kueh daddar, kueh koci, nyonya kueh ang-koo (red tortoise kueh), onde onde, kueh bingka ubi (this one and kueh talam my mum was an expert)

    2. You know la penang hokkien, mesti ada tambah perkataan melayu. Some of my kawan cina selalu sebut bah chang kueh, dah jadi kebiasaan atau the word is for clarity. Jika tak disebut betul2 akan jadi erti lain. Eg; lu chokang chit pai...hehehe

    3. seet pai, not chit pai, wakakaka

    4. So you see I misspelt the word, what more its pronunciation...hehe again.

  2. Truly mouth-watering piece, literally that is, considering this is ramadhan. You mentioned about halal bah chang and I've googled about it to no avail. Like you, I too wish I was there to be the beneficiaries of those handouts but alas. Anyone knows where to get the halal zongzi in this neck of the woods? KL/Selangor.

    1. you may come across a halal bah chang in one of those buka puasa buffet in hotels

  3. Strictly speaking, Bah Chang is only the dumpling with Pork, the "Bah" referring to Pork, just like Bah Kut Teh.
    Alvin Tan already became an international fugitive for accidentally or naughtily blogging about "Halal" Bak Kut Teh, which there is no such thing.

    The sweet version of the dumpling is called Knee Chang.

    Me, a Malacca guy teaching Ktemoc the right terminology for Chang.

    1. In KL some years ago there was a stall in Jalan Imbi selling halal bah-kut-teh, also called chi-kut-teh. Though its accepted in Malaysia that 'bah' means pork, technically it just means 'meat'. However, halal does not mean only the absence of pork or ingredients not permissible under the Islamic dietary code, for the preparation of the meat (whether kambing, lembu, ayam or itek, or indeed camel) is equally important.

      That both PAS and Amanah used the term 'halal bah chang' meant just that, tat their bah chang were halal, and did not have pork.

      Malacca and Penang Hokkien are slightly different, with Penang version being more superior and nearer the orthodox version, wakakaka. But I accept that Malacca might have called their sweet chang as knee chang but in Penang we called it tnee-ah bah chang, as the term bah chang has been used loosely as a term by itself to mena dumpling without identifying its fillings or non-fillings. In fact the Malacca term of 'knee' (as different from Penang's 'tnee') implies use of sodium bicarbonate. Penang's 'tnee' mean sweet (not savoury)

    2. Hmm...aren't you contradicting your own earlier post ?
      You lambasted as "pure grade bullshit" (your own words) those who attempted to defend Alvin Tan by saying the "Bak" in Bak Kut Teh was a generic reference to Meat , rather than Pork specifically.

    3. you're right. I have. Damn it. In mitigation I have been very much persuaded by both PAS and Amanah in using the term 'halal bah chang', but I concede I've erred.