A kind of ‘tea fruit’ – banana leaf dumplings

It’s been a little quiet on the posting front lately. There have been some health dramas in my family and they’ve taken up a sizable chunk of my mindspace.

This post is for a kind of tea fruit – a literal translation from Cantonese of a collective phrase which covers steamed dumplings. They’re considered snacks rather than meals and suitable for eating at any time of the day.

I grew up calling this particular tea fruit something different – using the name from the village dialect of my maternal grandparents. It utilises the exact same filling as the savoury Chinese donuts that I’ve previously posted about. On the weekend, I visited my parents as it had been a few weeks since I’d seen them in person.

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'Tea fruit'.

My mum had decided to make the savoury filling and asked if I’d prefer to have Chinese donuts or steamed dumplings. I usually pump for steamed as there’s only so much fried food a person can eat. Thrilled that I was home, I was co-opted into doing all of the chopping because my mum figured I’m young and would have the patience to chop it fine enough. A side effect of cooking more is that my knife skills improve and that always weirdly pleases me.

When I was halfway through chopping, my dad decided he was going to go for a walk around the neighbourhood. It was 11:30pm. Anxious about him walking alone, my mum suggested that I go along too. So I put down the cleaver, changed my shoes and went for a stroll with my father.

It felt strange walking down the street I grew up in. At night, the trees threw their wavering shadows onto the pools of streetlight. It was quiet apart from the wind and the streets were utterly empty. Seizing the opportunity to speak to me, my dad didn’t stop talking the entire time.

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Compare my hand to the finely cut filling - notice how small it needs to be.


Usually when I visit my parents, my dad will barely say hello but I know he likes to see me nonetheless. A wave of sadness swept over as he listed his upcoming travel plans and berated me for not monitoring my health and committing to proper treatment. It’s hard to escape and defend yourself when your dad’s a doctor. The guilt knotted my stomach and by the time we returned to the house, I was almost weeping.

We passed an empty lot of land (it covers three lots actually) where my brother and I had played at least 25 years ago. A cluster of ant hills was our focus and we’d poke sticks down their tunnels to entice sugar ants to come out so we could watch them go about their tiny lives.

I can’t recall walking down my street with my dad before. He wasn’t around so much in daylight hours for us to hang around with. In those days, my brother and I ran around the streets a little wild in the afternoon sun.

My dad really enjoyed the walk and polarising through the experience was, I resolved to walk with him again sometime. It seemed to bring out a different side to my dad and it’s rare to get his undivided attention, even if it meant he lectured me about things that made me squirm with discomfort.

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Uncooked dumplings ready to be steamed.


When we returned to the house at around 12:30am, he decided to water the garden. Which is actually pretty normal behaviour for my dad. I went inside and quickly stir-fried the savoury filling so it could cool and be ready in the morning to make steamed dumplings. We always use banana leaves to wrap them as it imparts a wonderful subtle flavour. Dried bamboo leaves can do in a pinch but it’s not quite the same. I really think if you can’t get banana leaves where you are, then you probably can’t get the massive dried bamboo leaves either! My mum keeps a banana tree specifically so she has leaves available for these dumplings.

Later in the year, I’ll do a post about glutinous rice dumplings which are wrapped in these dried bamboo leaves and then cooked for about 6 hours. Homemade ones are amazing. Can you tell that I grew up in a family that believes in doing things from scratch? I was able to pound fish paste in a mortar and pestle by the time I was 10 years old.

But onto the recipe! We made a kilo of filling but used half of it for this batch. The rest went into the fridge for making up later.

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Compare the dumpling size to the banana leaf cutting.

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Steamed and ready to eat.

Banana leaf dumplings (tea fruit)

Feeds: 8-10 people as a large snack (about 3 each)
Start cooking: 30 minutes before eating (with filling prepared and cooled)

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams x glutinous rice flour
  • 1 and a quarter cups x hot water
  • 500 grams x savoury dumpling filling
  • 2 x fresh banana leaves
  • 2 tablespoons x neutral vegetable oil

Method:

  1. Using scissors, cut the leaves into large rectangles (see picture for approximate size). Lightly wash the banana leaves, then blanch in boiling water for five minutes. This will soften the leaves and make them more pliable and less prone to breaking. Then rinse the leaves under running water. Drain until ready to use.
  2. Place the glutinous rice flour into a large bowl. Add in a cup and a quarter of very hot water (boil some water and let it cool for 10 minutes before using). Mix through and knead until smooth.
  3. Once the dough has come together and feels slightly tacky, divide into small ping pong sized balls.
  4. Press the balls into round circles, one at a time. Spoon 3 tablespoons into the centre of the circle and bring the sides up to seal, keeping the dumpling round. Roll within your hands to ensure it’s a smooth sphere.
  5. In the meantime, boil 2 litres of water in a large wok.
  6. Place some vegetable oil into a bowl. Use your hands, smear some oil onto a banana leaf.
  7. Place the dumpling in the middle, bringing the long sides up to meet. The dumpling will be nestled in the middle. Then bring the ends of the leaf together so they meet.
  8. Place the dumpling onto a bamboo steamer. Continue until all dough is used.
  9. Steam for 15 minutes until cooked. Cool for 2 minutes before eating.
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