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Chinese fish and seafood

21. Chinese Garlic chives and prawn Pastry (part 1)

How to make Chinese bakery with garlic chives
Chinese garlic chives pastry
—  JiuCai He Zi (韭菜合子)

If you have read my post ‘Dumpling introduction’, you probably already know that there is another type of  pastry my mum would cook for our family’s Chinese New Year Eve — here it is “He zi”.

Again, I am not sure if this kind of pastry is popular in other parts of China. The Northern provinces are famous for their ‘flour-based’ food and many Northern pastries are not that popular in the South. However, this is definitely one of the most traditional dishes in the North East of China.

A few years ago, my husband took a few of these to work for lunch. A Chinese girl who grew up in the North East of China saw him in the canteen, and was very surprised, asked him where he got that from.

Imagine a Western man peacefully eating one of the most distinctively local Northeast dishes for lunch, which btw is almost impossible to get in Chinese restaurants or takeaways in the UK. She must have been in total shock seeing him eating he zi with chopsticks, soya dip, and all. Ha… Couple of years later, we all moved to Oxford, and became good friends.

Chinese He zi

This pastry is called ‘he zi’ in Chinese, as in ‘something to cover up’, or ‘a box with lid’. To give you an idea, he zi are somewhat similar to  ‘Dim Sim’,  but Northeast style.

He zi’ are essentially two pieces of round thin pastry sheets with fillings in the middle.

In Chinese, there is an expression ‘Tuan tuan Yuan Yuan’,  which literally means making a round shape. It is normally used as a metaphor for referring to a family happily, blissfully united together.

Because of the shape of ‘Hezi’, my mum loves to make it especially on Chinese New Year Eve (many other Chinese make dumplings instead). By preparing he zi she wants to express her happiness for being all united, together, as a family.

It just shows how important he zi are in my family. It takes some time to make them, but they are probably easier than dumplings: the pastry sheet is bigger, and normally around 3 -4 are enough for one person.

The dough for the pastry sheet of ‘He zi’ is made exactly as for ‘dumplings’ (see here).  The size and shape is, however, different. I will post the illustration tomorrow, otherwise this post would be too long, you will get bored of me. :))

The recipe: Chinese Hezi with Jiucai fillings

I am now going to explain one of the most popular fillings for he zi in the North of China. This filling can be used for dumplings. I improvised the original recipe a little bit, but even this ‘improvisation’ is a common one.

The original filling is called ‘Sanxianxian’, as in ‘Three fresh.. fillings’. Although it is normally believed to be seafood fillings, the only kind of seafood in it are prawns.

The traditional and original recipe is composed by three items: garlic chives, eggs and dried small prawns. The garlic chives and dried prawns are very ‘Chinese’. I also used fresh prawns and ‘Fensi’ in the filling. Here are the ingredients.


Jiu cai, 

Chinese jiu cai (garlic chives)Jiu cai are normally translated as ‘Garlic chives’ in English, but their smell and taste are way more stronger than the ‘Chives’ we can get in the supermarkets.

In fact, sometimes, after buying ‘Jiu cai’, if we leave them in the car for a little while, the car would become super smelly (same if you leave them in the fridge for a while). My husband used to wonder if something got rotten in the fridge.:) He may not like the smell of jiu cai, but  he is a big fan of its taste in dumplings or ‘he zi’.

Unfortunately, jiu cai can only be found in Chinese supermarkets in England, and the ones sold there are not quite the ideal ones as they are not freshly cut. Anyway, they do the job. )



Chinese dried prawnsTraditionally, he zi are prepared with dried small prawns (see the picture). The smaller ones are the best to use in this fillings, otherwise, slightly bigger dried ones are also ok, but they need to be soaked in the water for some time until get soft.

As improvised version, I also put some fresh prawns in, just for the fresh taste. So if you cannot get the dried prawns, the fresh ones in any supermarkets are just as good.)


Chinese fensi (cellophane noodles)I am actually about to introduce these in a separate post. Let me say something now, briefly.

Fensi are a common ingredient in China. They look like Chinese rice vermicelli, but they are not made from rice, but rather from corn flour, potato, or mung beans.. etc. The best one used in this recipe is Mung bean Fensi.

Using Fensi in the filling is an improvised version of the original one, but it is also a very common way.)


1) Wash and chop ‘Garlic Chives’ into the smallest possible pieces, like mince. (Pay attention to the bottom, the part with white stem when washing, as it is normally with muds).

2)In a heated wok, pour in 3 tablespoons of oil, then put in around two well beaten eggs, and keep on stir it, try to make the ‘scrambled’ egg into small piecse, and let it cool down.

3) Mince the fresh prawns.

Preparing Chinese Jiucai Hezi

4) Place a small bunch of ‘Fensi’ In a bowl, then pour in hot water to soak it to soft. And chop it into smallest pieces possible afterwards.


1)Mix all the prepared ‘Garlic Chives’, eggs, fresh prawns, ‘Fensi’ and a handful of ‘Dried small prawns’ (if you can find in the supermarkets) together in a big mixing bowl.

Chinese pastry with garlic chivesChinese Hezi recipe with garlic chives

2)Add in 2/3 tablespoon of salt, 3 tablespoons of sesame oil, around 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil (or seasoned oil) 1 teaspoon of five or thirteen spice powder, 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of MSG or vegetable/ mushroom essence (optional).

3) Mix everything well

Chinese garlic chives pastry fillings
Mixing the fillings

— Here your filing for ‘he zi’ or dumplings is done!

Related posts:

7.3 Chinese dumplings: the fillings
35. Chinese steamed eggs/ ji dan geng
65.Bao zi: A Chinese steamed bread with fillings (part I)
120. Stir fried Chinese flat bread with mixed vegetables (V)


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