Last week, I had the chance to publish a story on PRI that I’ve been curious about for a long time. What are the secrets to making Taiwanese bah tsang (zhong zi , in Mandarin) and who are the ladies who are known for making them? It was tougher than I expected to track down these experts who were willing to do interviews, but through the help of relatives and friends in the Taiwanese American community, I found two ladies who were generous in sharing their stories and expertise with me.
Some fun facts about this food that I learned while working on this story:
While there are variations in recipes depending on the individual cook or family, the biggest divergence is between northern and southern Taiwanese. Northern Taiwanese make the kind I am most familiar with — the rice is sautéed with soy sauce and other spices before wrapping, which par-cooks the grains. The packets are steamed, resulting in a drier interior and grains of the rice that are darker and seasoned and maintain some individuality. In the southern style, the rice soaked, but not cooked or even sautéed, and the other fillings (pork, mushrooms) are wrapped while still raw. The entire packets are boiled in water for up to an hour, producing a softer, more sticky texture. Some cooks add peanuts to the rice mixture, others add them to the pork and other ingredients in the middle. And some store-bought versions mix all the ingredients together!
Also, some people have asked for a recipe. While I haven’t had time to write out the exact measurements and directions, I recommend getting the Taiwanese Homestyle Cooking cookbook, published by the ladies at North American Taiwanese Women’s Association. In fact, Julie Yu, one of the women I interviewed, wrote the recipe!
Read my full story The savory treat of the Dragon Boat Festival and the aunties who make them on PRI.