hoo kee bak chang - hokkien bak chang

Photo: Hoo Kee Bak Chang

Newfangled flavours pop up every year during the Dragon Boat Festival, but traditional dumplings continue to be well loved. Here’s a look at the time-honoured favourites from the different dialect groups.


Ryk Chew, proprietor of Hoo Kee Bak Chang, a third-generation rice dumpling business, says Hokkiens stir-fry the glutinous rice grains with five-spice powder and dark soy sauce before use. This lends the rice more aroma and a darker appearance. Marinated pork is used, as are chestnuts, which add texture and a little sweetness to the savoury dumplings. The pyramid-shaped dumplings are wrapped in bamboo leaves.


Cantonese dumplings come in a variety of shapes and types. Parcel-shaped steamed dumplings (guo zheng zong) are rectangular in shape and bundled with inner bamboo leaves and an outer layer of a lotus leaf. Cantonese dumplings also come in the regular pyramid shape.

Lim Cheng Hwee, managing director of Eastern Rice Dumpling, says that green beans are a must-have in traditional Cantonese dumpling fillings. They are used as split yellow beans without the green shells. As for the rice grains, they are not fried, but seasoned with salt and garlic oil. Other traditionally used ingredients are pork lard or fatty pork, though lean pork is more commonly used now, says Mr Lim.

For Cantonese alkaline dumplings (jian shui zong, kan sui zong or kee chang), the rice grains are treated with lye water, which gives them a yellow tint. They contain either no fillings or red bean fillings, and are eaten with condiments like white sugar or palm sugar syrup.


What is distinctive about Hainanese dumplings, says Simon Goh of Hainan Cuisine & Snacks, his family’s 38-year-old business, is that bigger pieces of ingredients are used for the filling. Each dumpling comes with a large chunk of fatty pork belly, as big as that for a kong ba bao (stewed pork bun). “We want satisfying mouthfeel with every bite,” adds Simon. Traditionally, glutinous rice, chestnuts and mushrooms are the other ingredients. Seasonings include black pepper, dark soy sauce and five-spice powder. These ingredients are stir-fried before they are wrapped into pyramid-shaped dumplings.


Teochew dumplings are not often seen in Singapore. According to Jason Heng, co-founder of the blog and online shop The Teochew Store, there are three types of Teochew dumplings: sweet, savoury, and shuang pin, which contains both sweet and savoury fillings.

Red bean paste or lotus seed paste is used as the sweet filling. Savoury dumplings include marinated pork belly, shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp, Chinese sausage, salted egg yolk, chestnuts and lotus seeds. 


Nyonya dumplings are wrapped in both pandan and bamboo leaves. The pandan leaves, traditionally used by Peranakans because they were easier to source than bamboo leaves in Southeast Asia, give the dumplings a pleasing fragrance, says Edmond Wong, Corporate Social Responsibility Director of Kim Choo Kueh Chang, a third-generation Peranakan rice dumpling business.

Candied winter melon imparts the sweetness in Nyonya rice dumplings. Chinese five spice powder is used to flavour the fillings, which include lean pork that is diced up, not minced, for better texture. 

Edmond adds that traditional Peranakan dumplings are pyramid in shape like other dumplings, but they are curvier with a ‘waistline’. “That’s why we call them Nyonya chang,” he quips.



Eastern Rice Dumpling

Besides Nyonya, Cantonese and Hokkien dumplings, Eastern also has a variety of other flavours such as black-eyed pea, alkaline, and black pepper chicken dumplings.
300 Balestier Road (main branch), tel: 6352-6283. Open daily, 24 hours. Find other outlets on dongyuan.com.sg

Hainan Cuisine & Snacks

For traditional Hainanese dumplings from early to mid June. 
#01-35, 22 Toa Payoh Lorong 7, tel: 9338-1903. Open daily, 7am-1pm. facebook.com/hainan.xiaochi

Hoo Kee Bak Chang

Get classic Hokkien pork and chestnut dumplings, as well as mushroom and salted egg yolk variations, here.
#01-18 Amoy Street Food Centre, tel: 6221-1155. Open Mon-Sat, 9am-5pm. Also at #01-3735,161 Bukit Merah Central. www.hookeebakchang.sg

Kim Choo Kueh Chang

Most famous for their Nyonya dumplings, Kim Choo Kueh Chang also offers savoury Hokkien, chilli prawn, Cantonese bean dumplings and more.
109/111 East Coast Road, tel: 6741-2125. Open daily, 10am-10pm. www.kimchoo.com.