Alkaline Rice Dumplings

Alkaline Rice Dumplings

Cantonese speakers may be familiar with these alkaline rice dumplings as “Gan Sui Jong,” and they are commonly eaten for breakfast or as part of a dim sum meal accompanied by sugar or syrup. In fact, we tasted zongzi rice dumplings like these in a Shenzhen dim sum restaurant just a few months ago. For those who want a savory bite, we also offer a recipe for Cantonese savory zongzi.

We enjoyed some of the best dim sum *ever* in Shenzhen, so travelers, take heed. It all comes down to three factors: variety, genuineness, and cost! Of all the dim sum served, it was this Jianshui Zong (Gan Sui or Kansui joong in Cantonese) that stuck out the most.

These jianshui zong are truly a gastronomic ancestor in our family. When Bill was a kid, his mom would make him these delicious Gan Sui Joong Cantonese delicacies. His mom and dad used to stuff them with red bean paste and a tiny piece of rare redwood.

After some investigation, I’m still not sure what species of wood it was or what it was used for. Please enlighten us in the comments section if you understand what we’re talking about.


In that case, why use lye water? When you drink alkaline water, why is that? A decent definition of lye water safe for consumption may be found online as follows:

Dough pH can be adjusted in home brewing and baking with this strong liquid alkaline (potassium carbonate). Noodles used in the original ramen recipe are likewise made with lye water. It’s what gives these noodles their signature bright yellow hue and bouncy texture and keeps them from dissolving in the soup.

Eastern European bread like bagels and pretzels, as well as Chinese mooncakes, benefit from the use of lye water to achieve a deeper brown color on the top during baking.

Therefore, it’s not as foreign a component as it would initially appear! Most people have tried it at least once. These jianshui zong owe their appealing amber and slightly translucent hue to the lye water.


The lye water turns the sweet rice into a texture that is more tender and chewy than regular zongzi. I can’t seem to stop playing! I racked my brain for a while trying to remember another cuisine that had a similar texture, but to no success. You’re going to have to put your own skills to the test.

Both the rice filling and the red bean paste in this zongzi are very mild in flavor, so the emphasis here is on the texture.

Shanghainese typically make these zongzi without filling and serve them with only sugar, but I think the addition of red bean paste gives a pleasant added taste and texture element and makes them that much more celebratory.


They taste great with sugar or syrup, as I indicated earlier. It could be basic syrup or any other kind you like.

Because it’s always in the pantry, we usually use maple syrup, but agave or honey would work just as well.



  • 3 ¾ cups of water
  • 1 ¼ cups of dried adzuki beans
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • ¼ cup of vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon of baking soda


  • 30-40 dried bamboo leaves
  • 2 ¼ cups of sweet rice
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of lye water
  • ½ tablespoon of vegetable oil


  • 1 ½ teaspoons of lye water
  • Kitchen string



  1. To prepare the red beans, soak them for two to three hours in water before draining and rinsing.
  2. In a medium pot, put the red beans that have been soaking, 3 3/4 cups water, and baking soda. Cook the beans until they are mushy and have opened up by covering the pot and bringing it to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer (about 30 minutes). The key to avoiding burning is to stir the mixture at regular intervals.
  3. Increase the heat, take the top off, and let the liquid cook out if there is still a lot of it after the beans have softened and opened up. Keep a close eye on the beans and give them a stir every so often to prevent them from burning. Remove the beans from the heat once they are done cooking and let them cool before pureeing them in a food processor. A food processor will produce a smoother puree, although an immersion blender can also be used.
  4. In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, cook out the liquid from the red bean puree while stirring often. It will take around half an hour to do this. In order to ensure that the sugar (approximately 1/2 cup or to taste) dissolves completely, it should be added early in the cooking process.
  5. Add the 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in two additions toward the end of cooking. The puree won’t stick to the pan as much, thanks to the oil. When the paste stops moving around in the pan and “stays” where it is, you know it’s ready. Once cooled, refrigerate the paste in an airtight container.


  1. For best results, rinse the sweet rice many times until the water is clear. Next, cover the rice with water to a depth of 1.5 inches. Blend in a half tablespoon of vegetable oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons of lye water. It’s typical for the water and rice to become a little yellow after the lye water is added to the clean supply. Put the rice in a closed container with water and chill it overnight.
  2. The bamboo leaves should be soaked in water for the entire night in a big bowl or the kitchen sink. For complete leaf submergence, we recommend using a hefty object to press down on the leaves.


  1. Clean each bamboo leaf front and back with a clean kitchen towel, brushing off excess water and trimming the base by half an inch. Set aside.
  2. Take the rice out of the refrigerator after it has had time to soak, and then drain any excess liquid. Set aside.
  3. Take out the red bean paste, then divide it into 15 equal-sized balls.
  4. All that’s left to do is put together the zongzi! If you have two bamboo leaves, you may make the structure depicted in the pictures by following the steps and securing them with some kitchen string. Two tablespoons of soaked rice and a teaspoon of red bean paste are needed for each rice dumpling. It is important to remember that rice expands when it is cooked, so make sure that the string is not tied too tightly. A properly wrapped zongzi shouldn’t reveal that it’s been wearing pants two sizes too small.
  5. Place the zongzi in a big saucepan in a single layer and fill the pot with water until it reaches about an inch above the zongzi. Put a heat-safe basin or plate on top of the saucepan and add 1 1/2 teaspoons of lye water to it. Simmer the zongzi for 2 and a half hours in a pot of boiling water reduced to a simmer. When the water level drops below the top of the zongzi, it’s time to add more boiling water.
  6. As soon as the 2 1/2 hours are up, remove the zongzi from the oven and set them aside to cool. These Alkaline Rice Dumplings is best when served warm or at room temperature with sugar or your preferred syrup.

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