Celebrating Food! Celebrating Life!

Nostalgia … 油香糯米饭

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When I first read the only lines of Charlotte Puckette and Olivia Kiang-Snaije’s “The Ethnic Paris Cookbook” I was immediately swept off my feet. The recipe-cum-guide book pays homage to the idea best expressed by Moroccan writer and Paris resident Tahar Ben Jelloun, who said, “We cannot take our house, our olive tree, our well water with us. Cooking has an almost therapeutic effect on our nostalgia.” I couldnt agree more. And this is echoed in Shirley’s recreation of St. Honore’s Egg Tarts. Nostalgia is indeed a powerful ingredient. Many would have similar experiences like mine, having flashbacks of the not-too-distant yesteryears when we are preparing a dish in the kitchen, or thinking of the time when we first had a particular dish when we take the first bite after a very long hiatus of not eating it. And if I might “spice up” this analogy with no pun intended, the “flavours” nostalagia impart intensify and bloom with age and time, like a good bottle of cognac, or simply a pint of homemade vanilla extract. Cooking is indeed very therapeutic for me, and often times hinted with the subtle scent of nostalgia.

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When my grandparents were still around, our family would gather whenever possible. It could be to celebrate festivities like Chinese New Year or eat mooncakes and dumplings together during 端午, 中秋 or 冬至. It could even be to visit the graves and pay respects to their forebearers during 清明. In short, we would find every opportunity to get together for the adults to catch up and the children to play together. Whenever there’s a gathering, there’s always a scrumptous meal at the end of it. The Teochew-style Braised Duck 潮式卤水鸭 which I’d shared sometime back is one of the “regular guests” on the dinner table on such occasions. Another dish which I particularly favour is glutinous rice 油香糯米饭 or known to us Hokkiens as “Zok Bee Png”. My aunties and late grandma would prepare this for several “designated” events, usually revolving around prayer sessions. I also remember it as a “giveaway” to neighbours and relatives together with red-dyed hard-boiled eggs  when my dad’s younger siblings got married. We, children then, were responsible for rolling the hard-boiled eggs in the blood-looking concoction, tinting our palms with an intense pink after that! We loved chasing each other around and played “Murderer Snap” after that.

Thankfully, the recipe for glutinous rice is “well-maintained” because my mum still prepares it once in a very blue moon. Makes 3-4 rice bowls.
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250 g long glutinous rice 长糯米

100g pork belly 五花肉

80g dried shrimp (hae bee) 虾米

5-6 medium sized dried shiitake mushrooms 干香菇

4-5 cloves of shallots or 1 medium red onion 红葱头

150ml water 水

1 tsp cooking oil 油
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1 tsp dark soy sauce 酱油

1 tsp light soy sauce 酱青

1 tsp oyster sauce 蚝油

1 tsp granulated sugar 砂糖

salt and pepper to taste 盐,胡椒粉
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1 stalk of red chilli, diced 红辣椒

roasted and salted peanuts 炒花生米

1 stalk of spring onion/scallion, chopped into small rings 青葱

1 stalk of coriander/cilantro, plucked leaves from stalk 芫荽

deep fried shallot slices 炒香红葱头片
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rinse glutinous rice several times until water runs clear.

soak in water barely covering the grains for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight

soak dried mushrooms in water for about 1/2 hour until soften. Cut into long strips. Retain soaking liquids (see below)

rinse dried shrimp to remove any bits of sand and shell but do not soak.

slice pork belly into strips the same size as dried mushroom

finely mince shallots or red onion

prepare all the condiments, except salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix thoroughly


Strain glutinous rice to remove excess water

heat up wok to evaporate any water

add pork belly strips and “dry fry” without oil until the surface begins to brown a little

add cooking oil, followed by minced shallots until fragrant

add mushroom strips, dried shrimp and finally pre-soaked glutinous rice

Pour in condiment mixture and give the ingredients a good toss to ensure even coating of condiments, i.e. even coloration.

add approximately 1/3 of water and stir until its being soaked up by the ingredients before repeating with the subsequent 2/3 in 2 additions.

The meat slices would have been cooked by now. Take a piece to sample the taste and adjust the flavours to one’s own liking by adding salt and pepper to taste.

give all the ingredients a good toss before transferring into a steaming dish.

prepare steamer and water to a rapid boil over high heat. Lower flame to medium high and place in glutinous rice and steam for 20-30 mins

during this time, prepare the garnish ingredients, i.e. wash and chop red chilli, spring onion and coriander.

once out of the steamer toss in roasted salted peanuts and garnish with chopped spring onion, chilli , coriander and fried shallots

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Reflections and Modifications

(1) rinse the glutinous rice well to remove any excess starch which might cause the product to become too sticky.

(2) pork belly can be replaced with lean meat if desired but I find the former more “gratifying” and I’m sure most wouldn’t disagree.

(3) do not soak dried shrimp as flavours would be leached into the soaking liquids

(4) retain soaking liquids from mushroom and use it  as part of the 150 ml of water to capitalise on all that woody aromas the mushrooms impart. Remember to decant carefully into measuring cup and leave the sediment behind.

(5) Do not use a teflon or non-stick based wok for this dish as it involves frying hard grains of rice, which would invariably scratch and dislodge some of that coating. Compromising the integrity of the non-stick work, and/or eating bits of nanoscopic teflon, either way is bad. Same logic as not washing rice grains directly in a rice-cooker which many of us, including myself sometimes, do albeit wrongly.

(6) The objective is to achieve well-defined and separated grains of rice, each individually coated with flavours, instead of a clump of badly made onigiri. So be patient about the water additions and do not dump everything all at once. It would cause the rice grains to cook unevenly despite constantly stirring and the rice grains to lose their starch making the rice sticky. Same logic as not using a rice-cooker for this dish. The texture is very different.

(7) I learnt from my mother that there are two schools of thought for this dish. One is to continually add water and stir until the liquids absorbed just cook the grains. This reminds me much of risotto! The other is to adopt the two-step method mentioned here, i.e. first frying followed by steaming. I prefer the latter as it yields more defined grains since they are left “undisturbed” while the half cooked rice steams away. The former method requires more control and resistance develops towards the final additions of water when the rice has soften considerably and about to be cooked. greater risks of squashing those precious grains.

I’m submitting this in support to Edith of pReCiouS MoMentS ‘s Heritage Food Trail. Hope you guys would join in the fun too!

7 responses

  1. Am totally with you about the nostalgia bit! My family also has a recipe for this ‘zok bee png’ which only my grandma knows how to make as an offering to our ancestors. I guess this is a reminder that I really should get down to learning how to make it in case it gets lost with time. Love the red chili and spring onion garnishings in the first picture 🙂

    August 17, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      yes please! learn it from your grandma and we can exchange tips on how differently its made in different families 🙂

      August 18, 2011 at 12:19 am

  2. I never knew this dish requires the work of cooking a risotto but that makes much sense. Looks like you’re on a trail with nostalgic foods. Will we see more traditional dishes/bakes coming up?

    August 18, 2011 at 11:04 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      yeah cooking up the past literally can certainly help to revive old and often forgotten memories. Have a few more traditional dishes in mine. Hopefully will have time to materialise this recipes 🙂

      August 19, 2011 at 4:20 am

  3. Pingback: Teochew Orh Nee 潮式芋泥 « travellingfoodies

  4. Pingback: 海南鸡饭 Hainanese Chicken Rice « travellingfoodies

  5. Pingback: 台南米糕 – Tainan Glutinous Rice Bowl | travellingfoodies

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