I feel a pang of shame in saying that I don’t know how to make many of the Hakka foods that I’ve seen growing up as a kid. Such things back then were made by the ladies of the village, and being a fan1-gui3-zai3 – a foreign born, my only exposure was as a child visiting the aunts and uncles and cousins…
At festival times it seems fung2 long2 ban3 紅囊粄/紅郎粄 (??) “red pouch bun” was always seen. It had a glutinous rice (lo4 mi3/no4 mi3 fun3 糯米) and rice flour (zam3 mi3 fun3 粘米粉) pastry which was made red with the addition of red colouring. A ban3 luk5 粄轆 (??) was a small inch and half or so spherical ball shalled fired clay object used to roll portions of the pastry into a pouch like shape (hence the long2 囊 pouch perhaps?) before being filled with a sugar and chopped peanut filling. The pouch of pastry was then pinched closed before being placed on a square of ban3 yap6 粄葉 (probably bamboo leaf) ready for steaming. The resultant pastry is sweet and chewy with a contrasting nutty filling. The filling is called ham4 餡, so this type bun and other filled buns are called 餡粄 ham4 ban3.
Another ham4 ban3 is lo2 pet6 ban3 蘿蔔粄. It has a white pastry made from glutinous rice flour and rice flour. I have made these before. If I recall, the pastry was made using boiling water poured into the flour and then mixed as best you could to bring it to a pliable dough. We didn’t have a ban3 luk5 so we improvised. A small apple came to the rescue. The filling was made with grated turnip, and traditionally, soaked reonstituted dried shrimp was used. We also included bacon, but it is optional, and more traditionally only the shrimp was used with it. Lots of pepper and salt to taste, the filling had to be cooked first by stir frying and it was left to cool and drain in a collinder before it was used to fill the pastry. Squares of ban3 yap6 allowed the completed ban3 to be removed from the steamer, I can’t recall how long it took though. We didn’t have ban3 yap, and improvised using cabbage leaves. The leaves cooked to a rather soggy state, but the idea was to have something to keep the pastry sticking to the steamer, so, in that regards it was successful.
Lo2 pet6 ban3 is not to be confused with lo2 pet6 gau3 蘿蔔糕. Again grated white turnip is used together with dried shrimp, bacon and or chinese sausage (lap6 cong2 臘腸). A liquid batter using cold water and rice flour is used to make up the mixture, placed into a straight sided dish and steamed until the batter is firmed up and thoroughly cooked. It is usually cooled, turned out then cut into slices of about half an inche thick and gently fried until golden on each side before serving.
雞屎結 gai1 si3 git5 is made from a type of vine weed called 雞屎藤/雞矢藤 gai3 si3 ten3 “Paederia scandens/Chinese fever vine”, (although “gai3 si3” sounds like chicken-poo, the alternate name of the vine indicates it may have something to do with the shape of the leaf where 矢 is a arrow so the name relies on homophony for the pun). From what my mum tells me, the leaves are picked and washed, then boiled to soften them. The strained leaves are mixed in with rice flour, glutinous rice flour and brown sugar 黃糖 vong2 tong2 and hot water to form a pliable dough. Small rounds of about an inch wide is rolled into balls. Seven or so gai3 si3 git5 balls are placed onto a square of bamboo leaf and steamed to cook them.
艾粄 ngioi4 ban3 is another such pastry that uses a medicinal plant, where 艾草 ngioi4 cau3 refers to the mugwort (artemisia vulgaris) which has medicinal purposes. Both mugwort and chinese fever vine imparts its own unique flavour in the foods and brews they are used in. Ngioi4 ban3 is another type of ham4 ban3. The leaves are boiled until translucent, then crushed and soaked to remove the bitterness before being squeezed dry and then chopped up for later use. The pastry is made with lo4 mi3 which requires soaking the glutinous rice, then it is ground placed in a bag and the water squeezed out to leave a dough. A detailed description is found here in Chinese. Sugar and ngioi4 is mixed into the dough and kneaded until it is smooth and well mixed. Pieces are then shaped into a pocket to recieve the filling, sealed, placed on leaves and steamed. The filling I’ve left till last because it depends on what the maker decides. A similar mix to the lo2 pet6 ban3 can be used, with pork, shredded turnip, dried shrimp and Chinese dried mushrooms, or you could choose a sweet filling instead, as in the sugar and peanut one for the fung2 long2 ban3. The ngioi4 ban3 and some of the others are usually made around the 清明 Cin1 Min2 festival. In some areas Cin1 Min2 is called Ciang1 Miang2 in Hakka, where ciang1 can also be the colour ‘green’ 青, and this green coloured pastry symbolises the festival too.
端午節 Don1 Ng3 Zet5 festival is also called 五月節 Ng3 Ngiet6 Zet5. Often leaf wrapped parcels called 粽/糉 “zung4” are traditionally made across China. For the Hakka, we have two types of zung4, 灰水糉 foi1 sui3 zung4 and 鹹糉 zung4 ham2 zung4. Both use glutinous rice, both are boiled as their cooking method, but they are very different indeed. Foi2 sui3 zung4 are is so called because the glutinous rice with no filling is boiiled in foi1 sui3 becoming coloured a deep yellow colour and almost translucent in quality and has a very soft texture – it is usually eaten by dipping in sugar. On the other hand, ham2 zung4 is firm and has a savoury filling which can include meat and salted cured yolks, or peanuts.
Foi1 sui3 literally means ‘ash water’. In English it is called lye water. Traditionally, a type of wood called li2 muk5 (so my mum tells me) is used, and the home made foi2 sui3 is a light brownish-yellow colour. When it is used to boil the foi1 sui3 zung4, the colour is absorbed by the cooking glutinous rice.
For each type of zung4, the glutinous rice is soaked well before use. 箬葉 ngiok5 yap6 is the name of the leaves from a type of bamboo that is often used to wrap the glutinous rice parcels. Traditionally with a long grass string, but more recently, string is more readily obtained. Dried ngiok5 yap6 can be bought in Chinese supermarkets, and they are first soaked to make them pliable, the pointy ends are often cut off, before use.
Foi1 sui3 zung4 is wrapped with the rice fairly loose rather packed tightly, this allows the grains to swell up properly and soften. In contrast, for ham2 zung4, a layer of glutinous rice is placed on the leaf first before the ham4 or filling is placed on it before covering with more rice on top. The top and bottom ends are then bent over the rice to cover them, the sides are open at this point, and a leaf is placed ove the side end before the top and bottom flaps of the side leaf is folded over to close wrap that side, before the same is done to the last open side. It is usual to add more rice to fill in the gaps before the leaves close the sides. Once the flaps are folded over, a fully enclosed package is formed which must now be bound with string to keep the leaves from moving and the contents from spilling out. It is usual to boil for several hours, to enable the rice to be thoroughly cooked. Nothing says poor workmanship that to bite into it and find the rice hasn’t cooked through.