SINGAPORE - Unfurl the bamboo leaves that are wrapped around a Chinese rice dumpling, and usually they reveal a pyramid of sticky glutinous rice, brown in hue.
At Hong Kee Delights in Marine Terrace Market and Food Centre, the brown dumpling can sometimes be speckled with spots that are almost red.
That would signify that the dumpling was made with not only refined glutinous rice grains, but also with brown rice.
The stall at Block 50A, Marine Terrace, now offers more nutritious versions of its usual ba zang (savoury meat rice dumpling in Hokkien) and Nonya zang (sweet and savoury meat rice dumpling in Hokkien), along with these stalwarts.
Only the husk is removed from whole grains such as brown rice, so it contains more vitamins, minerals and fibre than white rice.
White rice is the carbohydrate-rich endosperm left after the husk, the next layer of bran and the germ (the embryo of the seed) have been removed.
As whole grains contain more fibre than refined ones, they take longer to be digested. This reduces a person's tendency to overeat and keeps his blood sugar level steady, which is beneficial for diabetics.
Eating whole grains has also been shown to reduce a person's risk of developing certain types of cancer and heart disease.
The 39-year-old stall began to offer these healthier rice dumplings after joining the Healthier Hawker Programme, which was launched at Marine Terrace Market and Food Centre by the Health Promotion Board in September last year.
It is the fifth hawker centre enlisted to whip up healthier hawker fare since the programme was officially launched in April 2011 at Yuhua Market and Hawker Centre.
The other food centres are Eunos Crescent Market and Food Centre, Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre and Haig Road Market and Cooked Food Centre.
In addition to making dumplings with brown rice, Hong Kee Delights has also switched to using oil that contains less saturated fat and salt that contains less sodium.
When consumed, saturated fat is converted into low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, commonly called "bad" cholesterol. This is then distributed through the blood to tissues to make hormones.
But when in excess, it is deposited on artery walls, narrowing the arteries and raising a person's risk of developing heart disease and strokes.
Similarly, consuming too much sodium over a prolonged period is harmful too. This has been linked to a higher risk of developing high blood pressure.
On why he decided to participate in the programme, Mr Raymond Tan Hang Siah, 56, who took over the stall started by his mother, said: "This will provide more choices for customers and they are healthier choices too."
He had to experiment with the brown rice for two weeks to get the texture right.
Too much brown rice in each dumpling made it difficult for the shape to hold, as the brown rice was not as sticky as the white glutinous rice.
Initially, Mr Tan settled on a proportion of 30per cent brown rice for each dumpling.
But he has since managed to gradually pump this up to almost 50 per cent.
Adding the brown rice, which took more time to cook than the white glutinous rice, also meant that the dumplings cooked unevenly.
So Mr Tan has had to steam each dumpling containing brown rice for about 30 minutes longer than the 21/2 hours that cooking a conventional rice dumpling usually takes.
Despite the extra health benefits, each dumpling that has brown rice costs the same as a regular rice dumpling - $2.30.
The texture and taste of both the modified meat dumpling and Nonya dumpling were similar to those of the regular versions.
They were not as oily too.
The pork pieces in both versions were tender. Chunks of chestnuts added a nutty flavour to the savoury meat dumpling, while winter melon further sweetened the Nonya dumpling.
Mr Tan said: "The response from customers so far has been quite positive."
Now, out of every 100 rice dumplings that he sells in a day, about 25 to 30 are those made with brown rice.
Fans of his brown rice dumplings include MrsMary Puhaindran, 67, the wife of veteran grassroots leader S. Puhaindran.
Mr Puhaindran, 77, who had gone to the stall to buy brown rice dumplings for his wife, had to return home empty-handed because they had been sold out.
He said: "My wife likes the brown rice dumplings because they have a lot of flavour and are not gluey. The balance between the brown rice and the glutinous rice is quite nice."
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