Chengdu has a rather funny way of turning iconic local eats into big chains all over the city. Think Chengdu delicacies – 担担面 (dan dan noodles), 龙抄手 (spicy wonton), 赖汤圆 (Chengdu syle glutinous rice balls), 夫妻肺片 (thin slices of beef and tripe in spicy sauce), 钟水铰 (spicy dumplings), 韩包子 (Chengdu style steamed buns) and 麻婆豆腐 (ma po tofu) - all have developed from being unassuming little stalls to big restaurant chains with branches all over Chengdu. Take龙抄手 (spicy wonton) for example. The chain is now a symbol of Chengdu ‘small eats’, occupying a big stand-alone building on Chengdu’s busiest 春熙路Chun Xi Road and serving, in canteen style, everything from its namesake spicy wonton to everything Chengdu is famous for like dan dan noodles and spicy dumplings.
One of Sichuan’s delicacies which has been converted, although less successfully, into one of these chain restaurants is the “pearl ball”. I tried very hard to think of a more elegant English name for this jewel of foods only to realize that sometimes, English will prove itself deficient in translating hidden poetic enunciations in Chinese. However, as its name aptly suggests, the “Pearl Ball” is a spherical tit bit covered in glutinous rice and which has been my mother’s performance dish since as long as I could remember. Nowhere else in Hong Kong can you taste these delicious rice balls apart from at Chan’s residence and everyone are bound to be wowed by it on every occasion they are brought out to our guests. We are not entirely sure as to the origin of this dish apart from the fact that it was handed down by my late grandmother and that it apparently, upon some digging around the web, originated from Hubei, China (yes, Hubei, and so our family’s savory version is starkly different from the ones you get in Chengdu, which is sweet).
So where can you sample the Pearl Balls? You either befriend Mrs. Chan or myself and pray that we invite you over for dinner, or you join Mrs. Chan’s bible study class, or you try to make them yourself!
Pearl Balls (makes enough for 6 persons)
300g Minced meat
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Sesame oil
¼ tsp Pepper
2 tbsp Diced water chestnuts
1 tbsp Diced dried shrimp
1 tsp Diced ginger and spring onion
1tbsp Corn starch
¾ cups Glutinous rice
Half a stick Carrots
Around 20 pieces Parsley
1. Wash and soak the glutinous rice in cold water for about an hour. After an hour, sift the rice dry and put on a plate.
2. Marinate the minced meat with salt, sesame oil and pepper. Keep stirring the minced meat in one direction for at least 10 minutes until the meat becomes sticky. You can also throw the meat down into a mixing bowl for added softness. This should be done for about 5 minutes.
3. Add water chestnuts, dried shrimp, ginger, spring onion and corn starch to the mixture, mixing while you go along.
4. Sculpt the meat into balls around 3 cm in diameter (can make around 20) and dip into the plate to cover completely in rice.
5. Put balls into a bamboo steamer (or any other kind of steamer) – no need to brush with oil – and steam for 30 minutes on high heat.
6. Peel carrots and cut into thin strips. Put on top of steamed pearl balls together with strips of parsley.
* This recipe is posted at the request of my mother's bible study group. Happy cooking! Hope you can help to spread the good news of my mother's delicious Pearl Balls! *