JianShui Zong | Alkaline Rice Dumplings | 碱水粽

Alkaline rice dumplings are traditionally made during the Dragon Boat Festival. In Cantonese dialect, these dumplings are called “Gan Sui Jong”, in Hokkien dialect, its called “Kee Chang” or in Chinese it’s called JianShui Zong “碱水粽” . These dumplings are made with glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves and then boiled for 2-3 hours. You can also use a pressure cooker to reduce the cooking time. The secret to making these dumplings is the Lye water/Alkaline water or JianShui “碱水” which I will explain later in this blog.

There are two types of sticky rice dumplings made during the Dragon Boat Festival. One is the savoury type which are filled with meat, salted eggs, mushrooms and other condiments. Another is the alkaline rice dumplings, usually eaten with sweet condiments such as sugar, gula melaka syrup and kaya.

The original dumplings are made with just sticky rice. Later, other versions added red bean paste or other sweet filling into the rice dumplings.


Lye water is alkaline water. Here in Malaysia, it is known as “Air Abu Soda”. See photo below. Based on the description, it is made with Sodium Silicate. These alkaline water is quite commonly used in springy noodles and ketupat.

Don’t get it mixed up with “Air Abu” which does not have “Soda” in the description. It will result in different texture and colour.


Soft, Stick and Chewy Texture and Golden Amber Shiny, Slightly Translucent Colour

These dumplings are soft, sticky and chewy. If you like chewy texture, you’ll love them! They are neutral in taste and enjoyed with sugar, gula melaka syrup, kaya or red bean. These Alkaline dumplings are Golden Amber in colour, shiny and slightly translucent.

JianShui Zong is much easier and less time consuming to make compared to savoury sticky rice dumplings. You don’t need to have any preparation the day before.


Don’t use too much Lye water/Alkaline water

Too much Lye water/Alkaline water will make the dumplings taste bitter. I have not tested this but it is based on my aunt’s instructions. In my recipe I added 1 and 1/2 tablespoon of alkaline water for 500 grams of glutinous rice. I find the quantity is enough. The colour of the dumplings turn out amber and shiny.

Smooth side of the leaves face inwards

Smooth side of the leaves face inwards to prevent the rice from sticking to the leaves

Use vegetable oil to prevent rice from sticking to the leaves

Borax was used to prevent the rice from sticking to the leaves. But borax is not safe for consumption. So now we use oil instead.

Wrap the bamboo leaves loosely

Don’t stuff the rice into the bamboo cone. Leave a small gap. Do not tie the bamboo leaves too tight. We want to give the rice some room to expand nicely so that it will have a nice shape after steaming and prevent them from bursting.

Observe water level. Always add boiling water during the cooking process

Don’t add cold water as it will affect the cooking time


Place one leaf on top of a big leaf
Fold the middle
Fold into a cone shape
Add glutinous rice
Press the sides
Fold the top
Fold the tip downwards


The cooking time is based on the size of the dumplings. If the dumpling size is bigger, then the cooking time will be longer.

Secondly is the time used to soak the rice. I only soaked for 30 minutes. If you soak longer, the cooking time may be less.

The size of the pot and the stove heat. The dumplings will cook faster in a bigger pot. When the volume of water is higher, the heat will be higher.


Bring one dumpling out to test. The dumplings are cooked when the outer surface has a golden amber colour. Also, press the a fork or finger. It will feel springy. When you eat it, it will be soft and chewy.


These alkaline rice dumplings are best served at room temperature with sugar, kaya or gula melaka. ( I have a delicious kaya recipe from my aunt. Get the recipe here.)


After cooking, let them cool down completely. Then place in air tight containers or freeze safe plastic bags and store in the fridge or freezer. They can be stored in the fridge for 4-5 days or in the freezer for 1 month. After storing in the fridge or freezer. Heat them up again by steaming them until soft. Don’t need to thaw.

Alkaline Rice Dumplings

Yield: 18-20 alkaline rice dumplings

Alkaline Rice Dumplings, also known as Jianshui Zong (碱水粽) are enjoyed during the Dragon Boat Festival with sugar or Gula Melaka syrup or Kaya


Ingredients 材料:

  • 500 grams of glutinous rice 500克糯米
  • 1.5 tablespoon Lye water/Alkaline water/Air Abu Soda 1.5汤匙碱水
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1汤匙菜油

Kitchen Tools & Wrapper 厨房工具和包装料:

  • 40 fresh bamboo leaves 40片新鲜竹叶
  • 20 bamboo strings/kitchen strings 20条竹弦/厨房弦
  • Big pot 大锅
  • 2 hooks 2个挂钩


  1. First prepare the rice; Wash 500 grams of glutinous rice until the water is clear. Then soak for 30 minutes. Pour off the excess water, it doesn’t have to be totally dry, a little water left is fine. Add 1 and a half tablespoon of alkaline water. The rice will turn yellow instantly! Don’t add too much, the rice will taste bitter. Then add 1 tablespoon of oil to prevent the dumplings from sticking to the leaves. Mix well. Set aside for 30 minutes.
  2. While waiting for the rice to be ready, prepare the bamboo leaves. When washing, wipe from head to tail. The cloth will move smoothly when you do that. If you wipe the opposite direction, it gets stuck. Then cut off the tip so that it will be easier to wrap later. Stack all on top of each other to prevent them from drying up.
  3. Prepare bamboo strings. If you are using bamboo strings, soak them for 15-20 minutes to soften it. After it softens, gather a few strings, tie a knot in the middle. Tie the strings over the hook. Make sure you can easily remove the strings from the hook. If not you’ll have to have a hard time taking our your dumplings out later and you’ll have to cut the strings.
  4. Once everything is prepared, wrap the dumplings.
  5. The leaves have a smooth side and a rough side. The rough side will have a stem protruding out. The smooth side should face inside so that the dumplings don’t stick to the leaves after steaming. Also, the leaves are not very consistent in sizes. So usually I use one large leave and pair it with a small one or one wide leave with a thin long one.
  6. Place the small leave on top of the big leave. Wrap into a cone shape. Make sure the corners overlap. We don’t want the rice to fall out later. Place about 1 and a half to 2 tablespoons of rice. Don’t stuff in too much. For alkaline dumplings, the method is different from savoury dumplings. We want to pack it loosely. Now tuck both sides and cover the top. Then you’ll get a tip, Fold the tip. You can see it forms a pyramid shape.
  7. Now tie the dumpling. Tie 2 rounds. Make a knot. Pull downwards. Then cross over and pull. Don’t tie it super tight. We want the rice to expand nicely.
  8. Prepare a pot with boiling water. You need a big pot. Gently place the dumplings into the pot. Reduce to low heat. The water should only be gently bubbling. If not the bamboo leaves might easily burst open. Cook for 2 and half hours. (Always observe the water level. The water should be above the dumplings and as full as possible. This will help the dumplings cook evenly and reduce the cooking time. Add boiling water when the water level reduces. Don’t use cold water as it will affect the cooking time)
  9. Cooking time depends on the size of the pot and dumplings and the stove heat.
  10. After cooking for 2 and a half hours, take one out to test. It should be soft and chewy. Once it’s cooked, remove the rest of the dumplings.
  11. Let it cool to room temperature. Serve with sugar, gula melaka and kaya.

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