Raise your hand if you like sushi or sticky rice. If you have a hand up, I can bet that you’d love fan tuan* (飯糰）. Eh? What’s that?
Fan tuan is a breakfast food that is at its simplest, constructed of large air-pocketed deep fried dough (you tiao) and fluffy fried pork bits (less appetizingly named pork floss or pork sung) that are wrapped up in a big bundle of sticky rice. Those are the mere basics, and often times it will also include salted radishes and pickled mustard greens, or whatever the chef deems as additional savory toppings. Fan tuan is most commonly savory, especially the ones I had in Taiwan, though my mom would always tell me that it also came in a sweet version: sticky rice, you tiao, crushed peanuts, and sugar.
I am a sucker for sticky rice in all its forms: nian gao, tang yuan, yuan zi, etc etc, so it is no surprise that I love fan tuan, which involves a good deal of sticky rice.
I have fond memories of fan tuan in Taiwan- my first visit to Taiwan in 2005 was a high school graduation gift from my grandma. We were walking by a park, and there was a vendor hanging out there. I ordered a fan tuan and tea for breakfast (that had me stuffed for several hours afterwards!)
Not fan tuan that I made, but a Taiwan-made fan tuan from my 2011 trip
When I was still single and living with 2 other girls, my housemate Lily made zhen zhu wan zi and shared some with me. I suppose they are named pearl meatballs because they look like pearls due to the sticky rice coating! I would also dub them porcupine meatballs, because they also remind me of porcupines..
I think they are from Hubei, China, where my grandma was born. Regardless of their origin, they are pretty tasty. This dish still requires some Asian market ingredients, but is one of the easiest dishes involving sticky rice that I am familiar with. These meatballs are slightly fancier than “regular” Chinese meatballs, but only take a bit more time for a taste and appearance that are so worth it, in my opinion! If you like rolling snickerdoodle dough in cinnamon sugar, this recipe is for you 😉 I am sorry that there are no water chestnuts in this recipe, because Tim doesn’t like them. But, if you want to get some, chop up 5-6 water chestnuts to add to the filling ingredients.
Cooking, especially Chinese cooking, is a good fit for me in the sense that I don’t like to follow all the directions all the time, and I like to make substitutions when it’s more convenient! Please refer to the notes and substitutions sections for some tips for the like-minded.
|Fresh out of the steamer, minus two! (One for Tim, one for me)|