Is there any relationship between Dragon in a boat and a Peranakan Women?….The process of making Nonya Chang revisited…(Part I)




Rice dumpling or “Chang” is one of the traditional delicacies that are well loved by the Malaysian Chinese and Singaporean Chinese communities. However, nowadays, most families do not really wrap their own dumplings at home. They will buy the Chang in shops, restaurants or even supermarkets.

The price of the Chang will gradually be pushed upwards by another 100% by the date of  the Rice Dumplings Festival (or Dragon Boat Festival or Duan Wu Jie 端午节). Two weeks before the Rice Dumpling Festivals, assuming the price per rice dumpling is SGD 1.50 before the increase, the seller will increase 10cents per day and it will become to SGD2.90 by the time of Festival. This price is grossly underestimated and actual prices can be in the range of SGD3-4 per rice dumpling from a more reputable shop to SGD 5-6 from posh restaurants.



It was a sad fact that peoples of my age are not really keen to make the chang themselves. Chang was able to command a high price premium because of the basic economic laws of demand and supply. There are lots of demands for Chang especially near the Rice Dumpling festival. However, supplies were limited to a few Chang shops since most families are not willing to prepare their own Chang.

The next question will be to understand why families did not consider to wrap their own Chang? In my humble opinion, most people do not wish to prepare their own Chang due to the following factors and beliefs which personally, I think are misconceptions concerning Chang making:

  • It is time consuming to make the Chang (see below) as traditional ways of making Chang needs at least 1-2 days;
  • It is difficult to assemble all the ingredients;
  • It is very “challenging” to wrap the Chang as tying of ropes and shaping of Chang need times to acquire such skills;
  • Families are small eaters, they just want to eat one to two Chang and unlike traditionally, most families need lots of Chang for the praying sessions;
  • Lack of economies of scales if they only wrapped say 10-12 Chang and it is more worthwhile to purchase from outside stores;
  • The increase of household disposal income over the years and the price of Chang is just a small portion of their income.

Due to above the reasons, most families are not willing to wrap the Chang! 



Traditional preparation of Chang can be a laborious process. All ladies in the family were called to help with the preparation. In fact,  families and extended families (aunt) or even neighbors may agreed on one day to prepare the Chang together. They will take 1 day for the preparation of the filing and another day for the wrapping and cooking of Chang.

The first day will usually involve the cleaning of the leaves for wrapping, soaking of glutinous rice, the dicing of meats, mushrooms and other ingredients and frying the filings for next day’s wrapping. Early in the morning (may be 4-5 am) in the morning, the wrapping will begin and  when a bunch of Chang is ready (about 20-30 Chang depending on your pot for boiling), the boiling or cooking of Chang begins This will take another 2-3 hours per bunch depending on the size of the Chang. By noon, usually, all Chang will be wrapped and all Chang will be cooked by 4pm – 5pm in the afternoon. The ladies will share the results of  their hard works (Chang) between themselves and bring their portion back to their respective families. Traditionally, they are using big biscuits tin and boil under a kerosene stove. The tin is specially made fro this purpose only.

Don’t you think so after the Chang preparation, the ladies in each families shall be closer to each other due to the need of communications. I would deemed this as a family gathering or family “unity” exercise!


pic courtesy of :                   pic courtesy of:



Learning how to wrap the Chang is definitely something that I would like to promote among the younger generations. With the various kitchen equipment and aids, the process of preparing the Chang can be shortened considerably and I hope readers will try the short cut method that I will share with you in Part II.

The benefits of wrapping your own Chang are:

  • huge cost savings
  • more varieties of Chang can be prepared and easily tailored to the taste or special diet considerations of your family members;
  • as a gift to relatives and friends.


“Zongzi (or simply zong) (Chinese: ) is a traditional Chinese food, made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo, reed, or other large flat leaves. They are cooked by steaming or boiling. In the Western world, they are also known as rice dumplings or sticky rice dumplings.

Laotians, Thais, (who call them Bachang) and Cambodians (who call them nom chang) have also assimilated this dish by borrowing it from the local overseas Chinese minorities in their respective nations. In Indonesia and Malaysia, they are known as bakcang, bacang, or zang (Chinese: 肉粽; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: bah-chàng), a loanword from Hokkien, a Chinese dialect commonly used among Indonesian-Chinese, rather than Mandarin. Along the same lines, zongzi are more popularly known as machang among Chinese Filipinos in the Philippines.”


Therefore, in according to the simple definition, the must have of Chang is glutinous rice and some types of fillings (though there are Changs that don’t have fillings like Kee Chang).


Type of Chang

Fillings of Chang

Every regions or Chinese dialects group will have their own versions of Chang. As economy are more and more affluence, the fillings were change over the years. The following 2 pictures shows Chang will a few types of fillings.

IMG_4356   Chang with meat type of fillings. Can you spot an abalone and chili padi in the filings.

 IMG_4357 Chang which is bean based or no fillings at all

Shape of Chang


You can see there are many shapes of Chang and one of them is called the Pillow Chang. But the basic shape is the triangular shaped Chang. Have you ever seen a cone shaped Chang as shown in the last picture?

Therefore, one can conclude that Chang can have many shapes and fillings and I would not insist whose Chang is genuine and whose is fake. What can be included or what cannot to be included in the Chang.


“Nyonya zong (娘惹粽): A specialty of Peranakan cuisine, these zongzi are made similarly as southern zongzi. However, the filling is typically minced pork with candied winter melon, ground roasted peanuts and a spice mix.”



Nonya Chang belongs to the cuisine of Peranakan communities in Singapore and Malaysia. Peranakans are descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Indonesia and Singapore, inter-marrying with local Malays. The old Malay word nonya (also spelled nyonya), a term of respect and affection for women of prominent social standing (part “madame” and part “auntie”), has come to refer to the cuisine of the Perakanans. Nonya cooking is the result of blending Chinese ingredients with spices and cooking techniques used by the Malay/Indonesian community.

The nonya Chang is also “pua kiam ti” (半咸甜粽)meaning the Chang is both sweet and salty at the same time. It is different from the Chang is Taiwan or China which are called Kiam Bak Chang (咸肉粽)。

Nonya Chang are generally accepted by all Chinese Dialects group in Singapore and Malaysia. What differentiates  a Nonya Chang and other Chang are summarize as follows:

1. The usage of coriander powder and aniseed powder in the preparation both of which were considered as Middle Eastern spice widely used by the Malay communities;

2. The inclusion of candied winter melon to make the Chang sweet and that is where the sweet components come from. This obviously is under the influence of the Chinese culture where candied winter melon are widely used in its desserts and believed to have some cooling effects;

3. The usage of screw pine leaves for the wrapping (Pandanus) as compared to the bamboo leaves generally used in other Chang. This is another indication of localization of Nonya Chang since screw pine leaves are not available in China;

4. The usage of other nonya coloring such as the pea flower to color part the Chang into blue or indigo, but part of the rice are still white or light brownish in color as compared to the dark brown color of rice in the Kiam Bak Chang.

5. The inclusion of “sambal” in the fillings and this usually comprises of minced dry shrimps cooked with numerous types Malay spices.

I hoped that via this explanation, you can draw your own conclusions as to what are the characteristics of Nonya Chang and understand why it is call “half sweet half salty’ Chang.


Nyonya chang         

In the above picture, please note that the usage of reed strings, Pandanus leaves, diced or minced type of fillings, blue color of rice, brown dot in the white colored rice (coriander powder), all these are rather typical of a Nonya Chang.


The fact that most families are not willing to make their own Chang is understandable and one of the main reasons is the laborious process involved. However, such process can be shortened and I will share with your the simplified steps to make “my” own version of Nonya Chang.  Though my mother in law cannot agree with my process of preparation saying that I am lazy but she never complain about the ‘”qualities” of the “final products”.

Hopefully, this post will give you another perspective of understand Chang and “design your own Chang”. In Part II, I will share with you the details process in making the Chang.

Thank for reading.

Hey, is that a boot? No, that is somebody riding a horse! Is it?


What is this series – Series 22?

Today is a bit tough. You will be surprised when the answer is disclosed. The things in the picture are very very big and you can still go round it in about 80 days!

Answer posted on 9-June-2013


This is several world maps in a flower shape overlapping each other. The dark blue color is Spain, Italy and other Southern Europe countries. Another part of the map is northern Aftrica. The boot is Italy.

What I cooked today (家常便饭系列)- 1-6-2013


On 1-June-2013,

White rice served with:

1. Tofu meatball soup 豆腐肉丸汤
2. Grilled Saba (mackerel) with lemon  柠檬烤鲭鱼
3. Brinjal braised with minced meat 肉碎炆茄子
4. Artemisia argyi omelet 艾草蛋饼

Yesterday is my daughter’s birthday and we have dined out. Today, the dish is rather common except the Artemisia Argi omelet which is considered as a herb and supposing very good for arthritis. This is the first time I cooked this omelet. I like the special fragrance and served with Chinese cooking wine. My kids are not really interested in the dish as it is a bit bitter.

Purple is mysterious, purple is nobly and a purple drink is definitely lovely! – Rhoeo Tricolor Tea (如意兰茶,蚌兰花茶,红竹叶茶)

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Not many drinks are as purplish as this drink. If you thought that Ribena  is purplish, when you put Ribena next to this drink, you will know that Ribena, a black-currant juice, is not purplish but slightly reddish like the Rosella drink as mentioned in this post here. This drink really looks attractive and mysterious. It resembles certain drinks that were full of magic spelling prepared by a witch! However, I love the unique flavor of the drink and this is the Rhoeo tea/tonic or drink.

Most people may not be familiar with the name “Rhoeo” but it was sometimes called Oyster Plant, Moses in The Cradle, boat lily. In Chinese, it is called 荷包兰、青红兰、红竹叶、如意兰、海蚌念珠、蚶花,蚌兰叶、红蚌兰叶、紫万年青、紫蒀、紫兰、红面将军、血见愁 and commonly planted in the house.

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Tradescantia spathacea, or Moses-in-the-Cradle, is an herb native to Mexico with fleshy rhizomes. It has rosettes of waxy lance-shaped leaves. Leaves are dark to metallic green above, with glossy purple underneath. These will reach up to 1 foot (30 cm) long by 3 inches (7.5 cm) wide. They are very attractive foliage plants that will reach 1 foot (30 cm) tall”.

For my readers who are Chinese speaking, I have specifically include this excerpt. Note that the Chinese and English versions are not the same as they are from the different source.



荷包兰味淡、甘、性凉,无毒。内服消痰、止咳、清肺、止痢、凉血。入脾肺经营。【主治】清热,止血,去瘀。用于肺热燥咳、吐血、咳血、鼻血、便血、尿血、痢疾、百日咳、淋巴结核、赤白痢疾、瘰疬痰结、菌痢跌打损伤等。” (Source:


Now you know what is an oyster plant or Moses in the cradle or 蚌兰花 or  荷包兰! The last picture is one of my house plants planted by my mother in law when she stayed with me.


My mum in law  and my mother used to boil this drink. This herb is very popular in the Southern part of China. As I said above, I just loved the unique flavor that it gave rather than its color. Again, when I saw this in Wet Market, I just grabbed some and boil the drinks for my family. As Rhoeo by itself is rather plain, I have added purple sugar cane to partly sweeten the drink. Both “purple” color plants are believed to have cooling effects to our body.

Rhoeo is a good thirst quencher and according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is believed to be good for cough, cold, coughing phlegm with blood, whooping cough and nose bleed (read the Chinese definition above.) Worldwide, studies have been conducted to study the flower’s antitumor / chemoprevention properties, anti-genotoxic, antimutagenic activities and antimicrobial / phytochemical constituents.


Rhoeo Discolor (about 250g), purple cane (about 250g), white or brown or rock sugar (250g), water. All these measurements are for reference only. If it is too sweet for you, please dilute with water. Personally, I prefer to have a more concentrated drink and dilute it with plain water when the need arises.

Purple cane is optional. There are households add in candied water melon (冬瓜条). As rock sugar is considered as cooling, therefore, most recipe will call to use this form of sugar. However, if you boil a big pot (say 4 quarts), you will need a lot of rock sugar and it can be rather costly. Personally, besides using rock sugar, I have add in granulated white sugar also.





  • Wash the Rhoeo leaves and purple canes and cut the purple cane into smaller pieces (in the second and third picture).
  • Note that both the Rhoeo leaves and purple canes can be rather dirty. I have used a new sponge to clean the leaves and certain types of formations in between the joints of the purple cane.
  • Throw everything into a pot of water and  bring to boil under high heat. Note that before boiling, the water is colorless.
  • When it boiled, bring the heat down to slow and boiled for about 30 minutes. Add in rock sugar or granulated sugar that is done. The drink is ready.


The 1st picture is before boiling, the 2nd process in the process of boiling and the third picture the drink after cooked. The 4th picture are the leaves and the canes after boiling. I will throw away the leaves and keep the purple cane. The purple cane can be munch again and sweetness is still there.

NOTE: DO NOT THROW AWAY THE PURPLE CANE.  The purple cane can  be munched again and there will be still juices flowing out since we only boiled for 30 minutes.

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  • SERVING – As this is considered as an herb or tonic, we don’t usually serve it cold. We usually serve it when hot or at room temperature.
  •  VARIATIONS – You can add in winter melon candies or substituted purple cane with normal sugar cane. Just boiled the leaves alone is definitely acceptable.
  • The name oyster plant should not be confused with another oyster plant, salsify and the Chinese 红竹叶 belong to another plant though it was used interchangeably.

Also called oyster plant – Salsify plant   Also called 红竹叶and function is quite the same.


This plant thrives well in the climate and various types of soil conditions in Singapore and Malaysia. It’s easy to take care and can use it both inhouse and outdoor plants. It had beautiful white flowers that can light up your day. Why not plant some in your apartment or landed properties and “prune” it for when you are thirsty?

Lastly, let’s look at what I have found on the internet. Thanks for reading.

    A drink sold in

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For more recipes, you can refer to my RECIPE INDEX here and you can follow me at PINTEREST or visit this blog’s FACEBOOK PAGE .


If you are a Pinterest user and you are interested to have more recipes, you can join or follow this Pinterest Board set up by me  where there are more than 1000 recipes worldwide and pinned by various bloggers: FOOD BLOGGERS AND FOODIES UNITED PINTEREST BOARD

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