Fancy fillings are not the only unusual spins on rice dumplings.
Restaurants are upping the ante this year with special types of rice and grains, and sweet dumplings that come with dips too.
Besides the usual white glutinous rice, chefs are adding wild rice, brown rice as well as red yeast rice, which gives the dumplings a red hue.
Goodwood Park Hotel's Min Jiang and Min Jiang at One-North are offering red rice wine chicken dumpling inspired by the traditional Fuzhou dish. It uses red yeast rice, while the hae bee hiam dumpling includes black glutinous rice. Both the black glutinous rice and red yeast rice are imported from China.
Chinese restaurant chain Din Tai Fung has a Rice Dumpling with Flavoured Pork and Red Bean Rice Dumplings, both of which use Taiwanese pearl glutinous rice, to ensure a chewy and soft texture, says a Din Tai Fung spokesman.
At Orchard Hotel's Cantonese restaurant Hua Ting, masterchef Chung Lap Fai reprises his Five Grains Dumpling, which uses white and black glutinous rice, wheat and sweet corn. The rice grains are imported from the United States.
Chef Chung says: "We steam the three types of grains - black glutinous rice, wild rice and wheat - separately. Once they are cooked, we mix them with the white glutinous rice. The sticky texture from the white glutinous rice makes the dumplings not too soggy or hard, so all the grains blend perfectly together."
The Five Grains Dumpling made up more than 30 per cent of Hua Ting's dumpling sales when it was introduced last year, and he is expecting a 10 per cent increase this year.
Rice dumplings, or zong zi, are available all year round, but are most commonly eaten in the lead-up to and on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival or Duan Wu Jie.
The festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar and it falls on June 2 this year.
It honours the death of a famous Chinese poet called Qu Yuan, who is said to have waded into a river to commit suicide to protest against government corruption.
Villagers set out in boats to look for him and then threw dumplings into the river as fish food to prevent fish from eating his body.
While the dumpling-making process - from soaking rice to marinating meats to steaming the dumplings - can be laborious, chefs are still coming up with all kinds of unusual fillings.
A range of Asianinspired offerings available this year includes Szechwan Mala and Abalone Dumplings from Shisen Hanten in Mandarin Orchard Singapore; Black Garlic Glutinous Rice Dumplings with bamboo charcoal powder from Cherry Garden in Mandarin Oriental Singapore; and Gong Bao Chicken Dumplings from Szechuan Court in Fairmont Singapore.
And for dessert, think Hokkaido custard and gula melaka dip for Feng Shui Inn's sweet custard and lily bulb dumplings, as well as Peony Jade's sweet kee zhang with salted gula melaka dip.
Dumplings with a twist
Red Rice Wine Chicken Dumpling
What: A take on the Fuzhou dish of red wine chicken, the dumpling ($6.80) has a mix of red yeast rice and glutinous rice, as well as chicken thigh meat braised in red rice wine lees. It also includes a salted egg yolk and chestnuts.
The other savoury option is the hae bee hiam dumpling ($6.80) with a mix of white and black glutinous rice filled with dried shrimp sambal. Durian fans can order the popular steamed kee zhang with D24 durian dip ($5.80 for three mini dumplings).
Where: Min Jiang at Goodwood Park Hotel, 22 Scotts Road, and Min Jiang at One-North, 5 Rochester Park
When: May 19 to June 2; at Goodwood Park Hotel, 11.30am to 2.30pm (lunch from Monday to Saturday), 11am to 2.30pm (Sunday), 6.30 to 10.30pm (dinner daily); at One-North, 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6730-1704 (Goodwood Park Hotel) or 6774-0122 (One-North); go to www.goodwoodparkhotel.com
Five Grains Dumpling With Wild Mushrooms
What: Hua Ting's Five Grains Dumpling ($8.80) features a mix of white and black glutinous rice, wild rice, sweet corn and wheat. The restaurant's new item this year is Rice Dumpling with Stewed Pig Trotter and Preserved Mui Choy ($12.80).
Where: Hua Ting Restaurant, Orchard Hotel Singapore, 442 Orchard Road
When: Till June 2, 11.30am to 2.30pm (weekday lunch), 11am to 2.30pm (weekend lunch), 6.30 to 10.30pm dinner daily
Info: Call 6739-6666 or e-mail email@example.com
Red Yeast Glutinous Rice Dumpling
What: Minced chicken cooked in fermented rice wine is combined with red yeast glutinous rice, brown rice and conpoy in this new rice dumpling ($16) from Cherry Garden. The other new option is the Black Garlic Glutinous Rice Dumpling ($18), which is a mix of glutinous rice and wild rice, as well as preserved vegetables, kurobuta pork belly and bamboo charcoal powder.
Where: Cherry Garden, Level 5, Mandarin Oriental Singapore, 5 Raffles Avenue
When: May 21 to June 2, noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm, daily
Info: Call 6885-3500 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rice Dumpling With Flavoured Pork
What: Top-grade Taiwan glutinous rice is used for Din Tai Fung's rice dumplings with flavoured pork ($6). It is filled with pork belly which has been marinated for eight hours with 15 types of spices and condiments. Its red bean rice dumplings ($5), also made with glutinous rice from Taiwan and stuffed with red bean paste, are available all year round at the restaurant chain's outlets. Where: Available at all Din Tai Fung outlets including Paragon Shopping Centre, Jem and Parkway Parade
When: Till June 2, various opening hours
Info: Go to www.dintaifung.com.sg
Szechwan Mala And Abalone Dumpling
What: Shisen Hanten's executive chef Chen Kentaro puts a spin on his signature mapo doufu dish by incorporating the sauce in the rice dumpling ($22) with baby abalone, kurobuta pork, dried scallop, mushroom, dried shrimp and chestnut.
Where: Available at Mandarin Orchard Singapore's Deli Counter, Lobby, Level 1, 333 Orchard Road
When: May 20 to June 2, 11am to 7pm daily
Info: Call 6831-6262/6831-6266 or e-mail email@example.com
Bird's Nest With Coconut Rice Dumpling
What: Complete your meal with this dessert dumpling ($41.75) that is filled with bird's nest and toasted coconut flakes and has a hint of gula melaka. This bird's nest dumpling is part of a special rice dumpling gift set ($77.05 for four pre-selected flavours). Other new offerings include Black Garlic with Lotus Seed Paste Rice Dumpling ($24.60), which features black garlic paired with sweet lotus seed paste. The Eight Treasure Vegetarian Rice Dumpling ($16.05) is filled with ingredients such as white fungus, gingko nut and sweet corn.
Where: Shang Palace, Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, Lobby, 22 Orange Grove Rd
When: Tomorrow to June 2, noon to 2.30pm (weekday lunch), 10.30am to 3pm (weekend lunch), 6 to 10.30pm (dinner daily)
Info: Call 6213-4473
Steamed Beef Knee And Kidney Beans Rice Dumpling
What: Crafted by Li Bai's executive chef Chung Yiu Ming, the deboned beef is braised with red wine and Japanese miso before it is packed into the rice dumpling. Other ingredients include kidney beans, green beans, dried conpoy and Chinese mushrooms. Another meat dumpling option is steamed roasted goose rice dumpling, which is filled with goose meat, an assortment of beans, peanuts, dried conpoy, chestnuts and Chinese mushrooms. Both versions cost $35 each.
Where: Li Bai, Sheraton Towers Singapore
When: May 21 to June 2, 11.30am to 2.30pm (lunch from Monday to Saturday), 10.30am to 2.30pm (Sunday), 6.30 to 10.30pm (dinner daily)
Info: Call 6839-5623