Rice dumplings are a specialty of the Hakka people in Fujian, southeastern China.
The hardest part of making rice dumplings is getting the texture right.
Unlike wheat flour, which has gluten to give the dough structure, the skin of a rice dumpling is hard to manipulate. But for the Hakka people of southeastern China, it’s a welcome challenge.
Rice dumplings, also known as soon kueh, are a specialty of this minority group based in southern Fujian and northern Guangdong. Once considered a luxury, they’re now a common street snack.
Zhong Cuihua runs a rice dumpling shop in Ninghua County, Fujian. She’s been making them for over 10 years.
“I learned how to make it from my mom,” she says. “In the beginning, we ran into a lot of problems. I wasn’t sure about the filling recipe, and the skin came out soggy.”
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The dumpling wrappers are made by first soaking rice for four hours. After that, the grains are ground into rice milk. That milk is then partly cooked in a wok and mixed with tapioca flour.
“When you’re making a rice dumpling, you have to make sure the texture is good and the skin is shiny,” Zhong says. “It took me two to three months to slowly get it right.”
The filling is made with dried shrimp, diced pork, blanched daikon radishes, chopped bamboo shoots, and shiitake mushrooms. The main flavor, though, comes from chives. “We get the first harvest of chives,” Zhong says. “They’re the most fragrant.”
The filling is wrapped in the rice skin, and the dumplings are steamed over wood-fired stoves. “For us Hakka people, the smell of the stove is the smell of home,” says the chef.
Zhong and her team can make up to 6,000 dumplings a day during peak season.
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As for how to master the tricky art, Zhong says, “The most important thing is to work hard and have a willingness to learn. Then it’s easy to master.”