Sunday, September 18, 2011

Joong Demo by Chef Alex Ong

This past weekend was the Dragon Boat races in the San Francisco Bay Area. It's a great outdoor event to watch teams maneuver dragon boats near Treasure Island.

The event is actually tied to the ancient Chinese folk festival celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth moon on the lunar calendar (which is roughly around the summer). The festival honors a Chinese poet who jumped into a river, and people raced in dragon boats to save him. So that's how the races came about.

One of the signature food associated with the festival is joong, a sticky rice delicacy that's wrapped in bamboo leaves into a nice package. The story goes that when the racers reached the poet's body, they found that he was already dead and to keep the fish and other sea animals from eating away at his body, they threw the joong into the river to give the fish something else to eat.

OK, so that's a lot of Chinese folk history. All this is to introduce a chef's demo at Macy's that I went to this weekend featuring Chef Alex Ong of Betelnut restaurant in San Francisco. The demo featured the making of joong in honor of the dragon boat races this weekend. (Even though the festival traditionally takes place around June, the Bay Area holds its races later in the summer when the weather is nicer as we can attest to after having a foggy and cold summer.)

The demo was also hosted by my friend Carolyn Jung, who pens the popular Food Gal blog. Carolyn did a great job telling the audience about the Dragon Boat festival and about Ong's restaurant. And did you know Carolyn used to be on a dragon boat team? I can believe it. I mean, she must have strong arms from all the batter she makes when baking. ;-)

Joong is made with glutinous rice, which makes it more than just sticky, it is almost creamy like risotto, but still firm enough to keep its shape. My mom made these a lot when I was growing up, and she was an expert joong wrapper, with the bamboo leaves and rice in one hand and the twine in another that she'd used to tie up her joong. She'd add the traditional ingredients like fatty salted pork, a salted duck egg, and black eye beans.

Ong made a healthier version, using portabella mushrooms instead of pork belly. The marinated portabella is roasted to make the texture meaty, and then they're added to the glutinous rice and duck egg and wrapped in the bamboo leaves before being boiled at a low temperature for about two hours.

Joong, which Carolyn describes as a Chinese "tamale," is one of those traditional Chinese food that's very comforting, and fewer and fewer people are making them in the United States. Hopefully demos like these will encourage people to make them. (Like Ong said, throw yourself a joong party.)


Nate @ House of Annie said...

We used to throw joong parties back in the States. Hopefully we can do it again when we get back!

Foodhoe said...

How fun, I can't believe I missed seeing food gal and the dragon boat races this weekend... But I hope you invite me for your next joong party, that looks delicious!

Carolyn Jung said...

Thanks for coming out for the event! And for taking such great pics. Yes, my big arms are definitely the result of years of paddling (and years of tennis before that), plus all the pizza-making I've been doing lately. Hah.