Bak Chang

Today is Duanwu ( 端午节) or the Dragon Boat Festival or the Chang Festival for Chinese. It falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar and as such is also known as the Fifth Month Festival in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

The festival commemorates the life and death of ancient Chinese scholar and poet Qu Yuan. He committed suicide by drowning to protest against the corrupt and dictatorial regime that ruled.

Legend has it that people threw rice into the river both as a food offering to Qu Yuan’s spirit and also to deter fish from eating his body.

Today, symbolic glutinous rice or sticky rice dumplings known as zongzi (粽子) are eaten to mark the occasion. It is a public holiday in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Locally, the bamboo leaf-wrapped dumplings are known as bak chang (Hokkien) or choong (Cantonese).

Interestingly; the Chinese in Indonesia refer to the festival as ‘Peh Cun’ and it is known as ‘Festividade do Barco-Dragão’ in the former Portuguese colony of Macau. The dumplings are known as ‘Machang’ among Chinese Filipinos.

I like this simple dumpling from a roadside seller in Kampung Cempaka. It has salted duck egg yolk, fatty meat, dried shrimps (heh bee), mushroom and importantly for me; no mung beans.

The humble kiosk provides a no-bean option. Freedom of choice: Something which Qu Yuan stood for.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 2500, f6.3, 1/250 sec.

The Rohingyas On Land – Betelmania

A Rohingya hawker wrapping areca nut, herbs, spices, slaked lime and tobacco with betel leaf. The pan-Asian tradition of betel quid chewing goes where the addicts go.

At any local Rohingya or Burmese community, one will see many street kiosks blending their own version of the ancient chewing gum.

In researching the ingredients, I found out there is no such thing as a betel nut. It is actually the areca nut which is not a nut but a fruit. The stone fruit (drupe) causes the infamous and sought-after red staining of the mouth.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 800, f4, 1/200 sec.