Júng, also known as Chinese tamale in English, is a hardy meal in itself that you may cross paths with along the musky window displays of your local Chinatown streets or in the home kitchens nestled within your neighborhood. There are different variations of júng ranging from sweet to savory, how it is wrapped, and to the choice of fillings inside. Despite the multitude of family recipes and techniques, the history behind these wrapped treats frequently remains the same amongst the stories shared between generations of júng makers and eaters.
This traditional food is most commonly made for the Dragon Boat Festival, which takes place on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. Both júng making and the Dragon Boat Festival is done around the same time to commemorate the life and death of Qu Yuan. It is said that Qu Yuan, a famous Chinese poet and patriot who lived around 300 B.C., had drowned himself in the Milou River . He was in a state of dismay after the neighboring Qin had ceased the kingdom of Chu’s capitol in 278 B.C during the Waring States period . Legend has it that the people threw the wrapped júng into the river to feed the fish as a way to prevent Qu Yuan’s body from being eaten. Although May-June is known as the time for making this dish, júng is now commonly found and eaten during anytime of the year.
My grandmother’s technique can be seen in the short film above. I had the chance to learn how to make them, though the shapes of my júngs never quite ended up looking like her perfect triangular wraps. The following is her recipe for a savory júng and when eaten it is often accompanied with tea as a way to cut down the oil while digesting. The previous night she prepared all of the ingredients and when I awoke the next day everything was lined up and ready to be transformed into a delicious, packaged morsel.
Ingredients (makes about 40 júngs)
1 lb. Boiled Peanuts. To prepare, use raw peanuts and marinate them overnight with salt. Then boil the peanuts for 20 minutes.
½ lb. Chestnuts. Remove skin or purchase them shelled then pan fry them with some oil and garlic until they’re light brown.
½ lb. Dried Shrimps. Wash them with water and pan fry with oil, but do not brown them.
½ lb. Mung Beans. You can purchase these in a package with the skin already removed and dried. Soak them in water overnight, drain, and then fry them lightly in oil, garlic, and salt.
40 Salted Duck Eggs. You can purchase salted duck eggs or make your own. To make your own wet each duck egg in vinager and coat it with salt. Once coated, serane wrap it tight and let the eggs sit for two months in a room temperature area.
8 pieces of Chinese Sausage.
1-2 lbs. of Smoked Preserved Pork. Remove the skin and cut into pieces.
2 lbs. of Pork. Use salt and sugar to marinate overnight.
1. Take two bamboo leaves. With the leaves facing opposite directions, overlay them halfway and fold it in half. The leaves should naturally form a triangular pocket when folded.
2. Place about two scoops of glutinous rice in the pocket you’ve created. One hand should be gently holding the leaves while the other hand fills it with ingredients.
3. Fill the remaining ingredients. Place the meats in first. Put one strip of pork meat and one piece of smoked pork in the middle as well as one piece of Chinese sausage.
4. Place about two chestnuts depending on how much you like.
5. Put in a pinch of dried shrimp (about 6 pieces) and a pinch of peanuts (about 6 pieces as well).
6. Put in about 1 ½ pieces of the salted duck egg yoke.
7. Scoop one spoon of the mung beans on top of everything.
8. Cover the rest with about 1-2 spoons of glutinous rice once again.
9. Once all the fillings are in, take another bamboo leaf and overlap it halfway with another bamboo leaf.
10. Fold over one edge of the leaf to cover the fillings, then fold over the other edge.
11. Fold over the top to seal everything in and wrap it several times with string to hold it tight. Tie the ends of the strings together.
12. The last step is to boil the newly wrapped júngs in water for 4 hours to cook everything through. You may eat it after four hours and store the remaining ones in the freezer for the future. Once frozen you can simply reboil them again for about 20 minutes and they’ll be ready to eat.