Nonya Bak Chang: Singapore-Style Dragon Boat Festival Dumplings & Babi Asam: Spicy Pork in Tamarind Sauce

It was honor to observe a cooking demo from Violet Oon, dubbed as Singapore Food Ambassador. She is one of Singapore’s leading food gurus and is known as much for her cooking as for her opinions on food. She is considered one of the leading authorities on Asian cuisine with a particular emphasis on Peranakan Food. Violet is also a respected cookbook author and food researcher. Her appointment as consultant to the Singapore Food Festival 2009 is particularly meaningful to her as the theme is Peranakan, the culture she belongs to.

Click here to go directly to the Video link

Watch the 35 minute video as she demonstrates two recipes: Nonya Bak Chang and Babi Asam. She interspersed her cooking tips as she demonstrated the recipe. The recipe is a bit complicated to cook but you will learn some asian cooking tips just by watching the video. Now if you want to experiment, go ahead. The sweet potato dumplings taste so good.

Cooking Tips

1. Saute with a nice gentle sizzle not too loud sizzle . Chinese stir fry cooking involves high sizzle but not Peranakan.

2. Cook by smell.

3. Most peranakan dishes boil pork, slice it for that even look, then stir fry it

4. When boiling sweet potato, keep water for soup stock

5. Metal masher is better to use for mashing sweet potatoes

6. Don’t put less in a traditional dish. If rich foods are cooked in its right richness, you tend not to eat a lot.

7. This food should not be eaten every day. In the old days, it was eaten once a year.

8, Enjoy food three times a month. Rest of the month, eat plain like steamed fish or plain rice. When you cook for guests, the point is how to impress them. Cook really yummy for guests.

9. Coriander powder is important in Peranakan cooking. Never buy powder form. Toast the coriander in the over oon14for 10 to 15 minutes but stir every 5 minutes. It has to smell cooked but not burned.

10. To prevent spillage on the floor, use a mixing bowl three times the size that that you would need.

11. the smaller the pot the better. Deep fry is about how high the oil is.

12. When eating in a restaurant, feast with your eyes, your smell and lastly, the taste

13. Drain/dry the meat before cooking so that there is no water layer that prevents spices from reaching the meat.

Here are the recipes demonstrated by Violet Oon.

Held to commemorate a hero of ancient China, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in Singapore with thousands of pyramid-shaped glutinous rice dumplings and a Dragon Boat Race. The poet Ch’u Yuan drowned himself in protest against injustice and corruption. It is said that rice dumplings were cast into the water to lure fishes away from the body of the martyr. This act is remembered by the eating of “chung”, glutinous rice dumplings.  Dried lotus and pandan leaves flood the markets a few days before the festival on the fifth month of the lunar calendar as the dumplings are wrapped up tightly in these leaves. The steamed glutinous rice encloses a variety of fillings from pork to mushrooms, red beans, chicken, and mung beans.  The Peranakan version isa delicious variation.  In the past, lotus leaves were not as a vailable so Peranakans used the gigantic fragrant pandan leaves to wrap their bak chang. In addition to the traditional ingredients of diced pork, Chinese mushrooms and preserved melon was added to the local recipe by the Baba Chinese.  The new recipe also includes pounded coriander seeds and lots of sugar.

Nonya Bak Chang: Singapore-Style Dragon Boat Festival Dumplings


1 1/2 kg glutinous rice
4 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon salt
A few drops of blue food coloring from the Bunga Telang


1) Pick through the glutinous rice and discard the transparent grains. These are plain rice grains. Wash well 2 to 3 times. Soak 3/4ths of the grains overnight in water.

2) Color 5 cups of tap water in blue with about 6 to 7 drops of food coloring. Or boil about 1/4 cup of dried Bunga Telang flowers in about 2 cups of water for 2 minutes. Drain and cool. Soak the remaining rice grains in this water. You may want your dumplings to be more blue so soak about 1/2 of the rice grains in the blue water.

3) Drain the rice grains and place int he steamer. If the holes are too large, line the bottom with a piece of cloth. Mix the two types of rice grains. Steam over high heat for 1 hour.

4) In the meantime, mix the water with the salt. After the rice has been steamed for 20 minutes, lift the lid of the steamer and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of water over the rice. Mix it well with the rice.

5) Cover the lid and repeat this twice til the water is used up. The dumplings should be formed and folded in the pandan leaves while the rice is still warm. If it is cold, it will not bind well.

THE FILLING: Kueh Kledek Nonya

Sweet Potato Dough

350g glutinous rice flour (3 elephants) – 1 rice bowl
2 to 3 tsp rice flour
800g sweet potatoes, steamed and mashed with 1 tbsp sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup water to mix to a firm dough

Sieve the 2 flours and add mashed sweet potatoes, salt, eggs, and water to mix well. Keep aside.


1 kg belly pork without the skin
200 g preserved winter melon, diced
10 dried mushrooms, soaked til soft, drained, squeezed dry and diced
5 tbsp lard or oil
60g garlic pounded til fine
200g shallots, pounded
1 tsp salt
300g to 350g sugar
1 1/2 tbsp white pepper powder
4 tbsp dark soya sauce
6 tbsp toasted pounded coriander seeds

To fry

2 lt vegetable oil


1) Boil the pork for 30 to 40 minutes in enough water to cover. Cool and dice. Keep the water.

2) Fry garlic and shallots in the oil, add pork, sugar, salt, pepper, and soya sauce. Fry well and add mushrooms, melon, sugar, pepper, salt, and cook for 30 minutes. Add coriander, stir well, turn off heat. Cool and store in the fridge. This can be done a day ahead.

3) Fill the sweet potato dough with the filling and deep fry over medium high heat til the sweet potato dumplings are golden brown and float to the surface.


Watch this video demonstration

15 large pandan leaves. These are only available in markets just before the festival. Otherwise, you will have to order them from your favorite vegetable stall.
1 recipe of filling
steamed glutinous rice
a roll of raffia


1) Traditionally, the dumplings are formed into the shape of a pyramid with a three-sided base. If you follow the illustrations, you cannot go wrong. You have to pack the dumpling so that the glutinous rice is very firm.  For those who just like the flavor, line the bottom of the casserole with pandan leaves, top with some fillings and cover the glutinous rice. Pack it down very tight, top with pandan leaves, an dsteam.

2) Purists will have to do it the right way. Tie 17 raffia strings measuring about 40 cm long together on a pole.

3) Trim both ends of each pandan leaf. fold it over to form a pocket. Place about half a handful of glutinous rice in the pocket and spread it out to form a hollow. Fill the hollow with the filling and fold the top over using your other hand to push both sides in.

4) Fold the two sides of the leaf over the dumpling and cut off the excess leaf. Tie with raffia to secure. Trim off the leaves to form neat parcels. When all the dumplings are formed, remove from the pole and plait the end of the strings together.

5) Boil for 2 hours, remove and hang to dry. The dumplings are usually eaten the next day and can keep for up to 4 days outside the fridge. If you like them hot, just steam them again before eating.

Babi Asam: Spicy Pork in Tamarind Sauce


500g to 700g belly of pork
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp pounded salted soya beans (taucheo)
2 tbsp tamarind pulp – about 50 g
3 cups water
1/2 tbsp dark soy sauce
8 nos green chillies, slit lengthwise from the stalk til the end
5 nos red chillies, slit lengthwise from the stalk to the end
A pinch of salt, to taste
1 to 2 tbsp sugar (optional and to taste)

Rempah (Spice Mix)

5 nos candlenuts (buah keras), washed and rdained
20 nos shallots, peeled
1 tbsp shrimp paste (belacan)


1) First, prepare the spice mix. Grind all the ingredients together til you get a semi fine paste.

2) Cut the pork into bite-sized cubes. Heat a frying pan til hot, add the oil and when it is hot, add the rempah and stir-fry til fragrant and the oil exudes. This will take around 5 minutes.

3) Lower to medium heat and to prevent burning, sprinkle a little water on the spice mix, add the salted soya bean paste and the meat. Stir-fry well for 3-5 minutes.

4) In the meantime, mix the tamarind pulp with the water and knead well to extract the juice. Discard the seeds and pulp.

5) Add the tamarind water and dark soy sauce to the pork mixture.

6) Boil and simmer til the liquid is reduced by half.

7) Add the 2 types of chillies and continue simmering for 20-30 minutes til the pork is tender. Taste, and if you like, add salt and sugar and simmer for another 5 minutes til cooked through.

8) Serve with steamed rice as part of a Peranakan meal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *