Special Chinese food: joong

14 12 2010

Nani showed me how to make joong at her house today. Last month I was with her when she bought a whole bunch of eggs in flats. She said they were to make hahm dahn, or salted eggs, for joong. I began salivating.

“You know how to make joong?!” I asked. Coincidentally, my cousin Tim had just issued a joong cook-off challenge to his cousins via Facebook, but most had no idea what he was talking about!

Nani said she has made joong every year for 60 years starting from the time her mother taught her. At choir practice last week I asked how the hahm dahn were coming along, hinting that I wanted to see the production.

Joong is a Chinese festival food—a pouch of soft, sticky, sweet rice hiding savory morsels pork, peanuts, and a salted egg yolk. At least the way Nani makes them.

I recall my mother treating joong as special food. Nani said Chinese people eat joong for Boat Day in the spring although she makes it more often, and that joong represented an anchor—something heavy that stuck to the bottom of your stomach. Could be, I thought, but joong is also delicious.

Today Nani and her three sisters Corinne, Barbara, and Rae and her cousin Eva were already gathered around the modern kitchen island when I arrived. Each had her own set up. Each had started soaking chicken eggs in brine 30 days ago. What they made today they took home to boil for 6 hours. After cooling in the cooking water overnight they will be ready to eat or freeze for later enjoyment.

As with most Chinese recipes, much goes into preparation before cooking. Last night Nani softened the bamboo leaves that she bought in Chinatown by heating them in boiling water. She soaked the peanuts and the glutinous rice. She marinated cubes of belly pork with Hawaiian salt and Chinese five spices. Just prior to assembling the joong, she cracked the salted eggs into a bowl.

There are similar rice pouch type foods – of Chinese and other ethnic origins – of other shapes, using other kinds of outer leaves, using other fillings, but according to my joong mentor, those are not joong.

I can hardly wait to taste our efforts. Thank you, Nani, for sharing your family joong-making day with me!

This metal form makes it easy to assemble the joong. You build an upside-down pyramid starting with 3 bamboo leaves inserted a certain way.

The process starts with soaking eggs in brine at least 30 days in advance. These are chicken eggs. You may also use duck eggs that would be more of a delicacy. These eggs are tan because Nani added tea to the solution. (Aha! Chef’s secret?!)

Once the bamboo leaves are in place, top sides touching the food, add a serving spoon of rice, the hahm dahn yolk (discard the whites), two pieces of marinated pork, and a few peanuts. Top with two serving spoons of the rice to cover the filling you see here. Then fold both long sides of the leaves over as if gift wrapping a box, followed by the short sides. Secure with string.

More finished bundles will go into this pot. Add water to cover and set to boil and simmer for 6 hours.

P.S. Nani said the following book most closely describes their family’s way to make joong. In it, the recipe is entitled “Savory Jeng.”

Every Grain of Rice by Ellen Blonder and Annabel Low. Clarkson N. Potter Inc./Random House, 1998. ISBN 0-609-60102-4

Copyright 2010 Rebekah Luke

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