Bak zhang (rice dumplings) is no longer just festive food, this compact dish is now available commercially at outlets across the island throughout the year. Some stalls are even open 24 hours every day to satisfy glutinous rice cravings at any time of the night. This is not to say the significance of having rice dumplings during Dragon Boat Festival has lessened – many still only eat bak zhang mainly during this period of the year. We're here to help with not having to settle for poorly-made bak zhang; here are five of the top bundles from Singapore's hawker stalls. (Note: prices quoted are regular, expect prices to rise during the festive season)
FOR GENEROUS HOKKIEN-STYLE BAK ZHANG | HOO KEE RICE DUMPLINGS | Hoo Kee is known to make the best commercial bak zhang around. The menu is simple, only Hokkien-style pork dumplings are available with an option of an included salted egg yolk ($2.50; with salted yolk $3.30). They are generous with their ingredients – sticky and flavourful glutinous rice with juicy pork, mushroom and chestnut for a pad of sweetness. You are advised to place your order in advance, especially when close to Dragon Boat Festival. Walk-in customers are often greeted with disappointing news during this time. Do join the queue if you've ignored our advice, their pork dumpling with salted egg yolk ($3.30) is worth it.
FOR JUICY BAK ZHANG | HIONG KEE DUMPLINGS | They own two stalls in this food centre: one on the first floor where they assemble the dumplings and the other one on second floor where they steam and sell. Options are more plentiful here: Hokkien-style dumplings with pork or chicken and a salted egg yolk ($3.80) and Nyonya-style pork dumplings ($3). Compared to Hoo Kee Rice Dumplings, Hiong Kee's bak zhang is priced a little higher and slightly smaller in size, but they are packed with generous pieces of braised pork and chestnut. Those looking for juicier, melt-in-your-mouth fatty pork should try their pork belly rice dumpling ($3.80).
FOR 24-HOUR NYONYA-STYLE BAK ZHANG | EASTERN RICE DUMPLING | Eastern Rice Dumpling probably has the widest range of dumplings on this list, and in Singapore. This stall is clearly poised to satisfy – it has a variety of dumplings, from Hokkien- to Cantonese-style, and is open 24 hours all week. Their Nyonya-style ($2.50) pork dumpling comes with chunks of dry, sweet braised pork for a contrasting texture. On a sweeter note – try their red bean paste kee chang ($1.40), gummy and sticky glutinous rice with smooth red bean paste that is not overly sweet. For the health conscious customers, they also offer dumplings made with brown rice, as well as miniature sizes of their more popular dumplings.
FOR SWEET NYONYA-STYLE PORK BAK ZHANG | KIM CHOO KUEH CHANG | One of the more established families serving Peranakan food, Kim Choo Kueh Chang is the go-to place for Nyonya-style rice dumplings that are available with pork, chicken or as vegetarian. Their pork dumpling ($3.20) leans towards the sweeter side with the inclusion of caramelised melon and fragrant hint of spices. They also make an XO rice dumpling ($7), a more premium version with dried oysters and scallops. This, we find, is a dumpling that you'll either love or hate on the first try; it is one for acquired tastes.
FOR VEGETARIAN BAK ZHANG | DAUN PANDAN RICE DUMPLING | For the freshest rice dumplings, visit their main branch located on the Guillemard Rd. What we like from Daun Pandan Rice Dumpling's range is their vegetarian dumplings. The peanut dumpling ($1.80) is light in taste with steamed peanuts, while the black eye beans with mushroom ($2.30) rice dumpling has the flavour and texture we like in traditional bak zhangs. They also make a Teochew-style bean paste rice dumpling ($3.30), an interesting combination of sweet bean paste and savoury braised meat, which surprisingly – for us, who are so used to the Hokkien-style dumplings – go well together.