A comforting and delicious Chinese breakfast dish, Fan Tuan consists of soft sticky rice, crispy doughnut stick, aromatic meat floss and preserved vegetable.
Whenever I visit the Jiangnan/江南 region of China, I always make sure to buy a local speciality at breakfast stalls: Fan Tuan/饭团 (aka Ci Fan Tuan/粢饭团). It’s sticky rice stuffed with Chinese doughnut sticks (Youtiao), pork floss, preserved vegetable, etc. and formed into an oblong shape.
When you bite into it, an exciting mixture of flavour and texture stimulates your taste buds: Savoury, sweet, aromatic, umami, soft, springy, crunchy and crispy. Sounds delicious? Read on to find out how to make it at home.
How to cook sticky rice
Having a sticky, chewy texture and a hint of sweetness, sticky rice (aka sweet rice or glutinous rice) has three main varieties: Japanese short grain, Thai long grain and black & purple-coloured. You may use either of them for today’s recipe.
The best way to cook sticky rice is the traditional soak and steam method. It’s a lengthy process but the end result is desirable: rice grains are fully cooked but still have a nice “al dente” springy texture instead of being mushy. Here is how it works:
- Rinse the rice several times until the water becomes almost clear. Soak it in water overnight (or at least 6 hours).
- Inside a steamer basket, lay a piece of wet muslin cloth/cheesecloth) or a wet tea towel made of natural material. Drain the rice then spread it over the cloth. Fold the four corners to cover the rice completely.
- Bring water to a full boil then place the basket over the pot/wok. Cover with a lid. Leave to steam over medium-low heat for 30-35 minutes (Check the water level halfway through to avoid drying out). Check the doneness at 30 minutes. Cook a little longer if necessary.
- Keep the rice in the steamer (covered) until you’re ready to assemble Fan Tuan as it dries out very quickly. Transfer to an airtight container if you plan to use it later.
🛎 Alternative cooking methods: If you have a rice cooker that has a separate function for cooking sticky rice (often labelled as sweet rice on the machine), it’s a reliable method too. For more alternatives, check out 7 Ways to Cook Sticky Rice (by Pailin’s Kitchen) which I found informative and helpful.
🛎 Using other rice: Regular short grain white rice, such as sushi rice, Chinese Dongbei rice (东北大米), etc., would work for this recipe too. The texture and taste would be a little different but still nice.
Now let’s have a look at what goes into Fan Tuan. I classify the ingredients into two groups: the classic trio and optional choices:
Chinese doughnut stick (Youtiao/油条). Loved for its airy, fluffy and crunchy texture, it’s an essential filling for traditional Fan Tuan. That is why in some regions this dish is also called Nuo Mi Bao You Tiao/糯米包油条 which literally means doughnut stick wrapped with sticky rice.
I have a recipe for homemade doughnut sticks which provides detailed instructions on how to make them from scratch. If you don’t feel like making them yourself, pop into your local Chinese/Asian store. You should be able to find frozen ones that can be heated in various ways.
Pork floss (Rou Song/Yuk Sung/肉松). It’s essentially pork dehydrated to a very light and fluffy texture. It offers a salty-sweet flavour with a strong umami taste. In Chinese/Asian store, you may also find meat floss made with beef, chicken or fish. Please feel free to substitute if you wish.
Preserved vegetable (Zha Cai/榨菜). Made of mustard stem, it’s a versatile ingredient often found in Chinese noodle dishes, soup or stir-fries. Apart from its aromatic saltiness, it may also have a spicy, sweet or sour taste depending on the brand. Other types of ready-to-use pickled vegetables, such as radish, yard-long beans, etc. would also work for this recipe.
On top of the classic trio mentioned above, I also like the following for extra flavours and colours.
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Finely chopped scallions
- Pickled chili garlic sauce, black bean sauce, or any other spicy sauce of your choice, e.g. Laoganma sauce
🛎 Note: It’s not common to find spicy sauce in Fan Tuan, but if you love a bit of heat in food as I do, I highly recommend you give it a try!
Other possible fillings
All traditional food evolves. So don’t limit yourself to my suggestions. Many other simple yet delicious ingredients would make your Fan Tuan exceptional. Possible items include fried eggs, sliced marble tea eggs, salted egg yolk, Chinese ham sausage (Huo Tui Chang/火腿肠), toasted peanuts, toasted soybean powder, etc. Once I had a modernised Fan Tuan with bacon and cheese as filling. It was surprisingly delicious!
How to assemble
No special tools are required for assembling Fan Tuan. A piece of cling film (plastic wrap) is all that you need. Here is how it works:
- Lay the cling film over the work surface. Sprinkle sesame seeds over. Then spread the cooked sticky rice, with a spatula or by hand, into a square shape (about 18cm/7in each side). Remember to wet the spatula or hands with a little water to prevent sticking.
- Spread pickled chili garlic sauce (or other spicy sauce). Then add scallions, pork floss and preserved vegetable.
- Place a doughnut stick in the middle. For making this recipe, I had my homemade doughnut stick a bit shorter than usual. If your ones are longer, simply trim off a little.
- Lift the two sides of the cling film which are parallel with the doughnut stick. Join the rice on the top to cover the fillings completely. Press with your hands to firm up the roll. Twist the film at two ends to ensure nothing leaks out that way.
How to serve & store
When serving, simply halve the roll with a sharp knife. Gradually pull off the film from the open end while eating. Fan Tuan needs to be enjoyed right after assembly as the sticky rice goes hard once cooled.
If you happen to have some leftover, store it in the fridge for up to three days. Reheat by steaming it for a few minutes. The doughnut sticks will lose their crunchiness and become soft, but the overall taste remains great.
Other recipe using sticky rice
Are you a fan of sticky rice? Check out other classic recipes using this ingredient.
- Zongzi, Sticky Rice Dumplings (粽子)
- Eight Treasure Rice Pudding (八宝饭)
- Sweet Lotus Root with Sticky Rice (糯米藕)
Fan Tuan (Stuffed Sticky Rice Roll, 饭团)
- 360 g sticky rice (glutinous rice/sweet rice), about 1¾ cup, see note 1
- 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
- 2 tsp pickled chili garlic sauce, or other sauce of your choice (optional)
- 1 stalk scallions ,finely chopped
- 50 g pork floss (Rou Song/肉松), about ½ cup, see note 2
- 30 g preserved vegetable (Zha Cai/榨菜), about ¼ cup, see note 3
- 2 Chinese doughnut sticks (Youtiao/油条), see note 4
Steam the rice (see note 5 for alternative methods)
- Rinse rice until the water becomes clear. Soak overnight (or at least 6 hours).
- Drain well then spread the rice over a piece of wet muslin cloth that’s laid inside a steamer basket (see note 6). Fold the corners to cover the rice completely.
- Bring water to a full boil then place the basket over the pot/wok. Cover and leave to steam over medium-low heat for about 30-35 minutes (Check the water level halfway through to avoid drying out).
- Keep the rice in the steamer (covered) until you’re ready to assemble.
Assemble the rolls
- Lay a piece of cling film (plastic wrap) over the work surface. Sprinkle half of the sesame seeds over.
- Place half of the cooked sticky rice on top. Using a spatula or your hand to carefully flatten it into a square shape (each side measures about the same length as a doughnut stick). To prevent sticking, wet spatula or hands with a little water when handling the rice.
- Spread some pickled chili garlic sauce over (optional). Then add half of the scallions, pork floss and preserved mustard stem.
- Place one doughnut stick in the middle. Lift the two sides of the cling film to join the rice towards the centre. Place pressure all over the roll to tightly wrap all the fillings.
- Repeat the procedure to make the second roll. Then halve each one and serve immediately.