Giant pandan leaf and vegetarian zhang in Sarawak

Most people use bamboo leaves for wrapping Ba zhang/zong zi, the savory glutinous rice dumpling for Ba zhang festival. In Sarawak and Kalimantan, we use Giant pandan leaf for wrapping Ba zhang and the bamboo leaf for Kee zhang, the zhang cooked with a bit of alkaline solution.

This Giant pandan tree grows up a height of 2-3 meter. It belongs to the same family of the regular pandan plant/screw pine we use in cooking Malaysian dishes i.e the family of pandanus. However, exact ID of this Giant pandan plant is still unclear.

Giant pandan leaves
Giant pandan leaves

Its leaves are fragrant. Small spikes grow along both sides of young leaves but they disappear after the leaves mature. Just leave a leaf in the car to enjoy its fragrance. Giant pandan leaf can be soaked in warm water before use. Dip it dry before wrapping the zhang. Some of our zhang makers prefer to roll it straight with a wooden roller.


Steamed vegetarian zhang from my kitchen.

 The picture above shows the steamed vegetarian Ba zhang from my kitchen. I am following the Taiwanese way of cooking Ba zhang. I prefer to steam it because it is less time consuming and less oily too. Usual way of cooking Ba zhang is boiling them for 5-7 hours. Of course, time can be cut short by using pressure cooker but for zhang makers, there is no way to install a big pressure cooker in their kitchens. In the past, most people used biscuit tins because they were big enough to contain all the zhangs.

In my recipe to be shared later, I mix the ingredients together with the rice but in most ba zhangs in the markets one can find the filling is placed at the middle of the rice. Mixing the filling together with the rice is to cut short the preparation time. So whatever way will do, just be flexible.


    Left – Vegetarian nyonya zhangs are sold at the vegetarian cafe almost everyday.
Right – Kee zhangs/碱水粽 with red bean paste and the other one is plain.The plain zhang is dipped in gula apong or brown sugar syrup.

The picture below shows the regular pandan plant/screw pine we use in Malaysian dessert like kueh and for cooking fragrant rice like nasi lemak, nasi brayani and numerous dishes. Its leaf is fragrant and is an important ingredient in Malaysian Malay and Nyonya dishes. Pandan leaf tea is a popular health drink in the country.

The other pandan leaf shown on the left is pandan serani which is of different family from the regular pandan plant. Its leaf is not fragrant. It is mostly used for green food dye. In Malaysia and Indonesia, pandan serani is used for cooking Kueh Hijau, green cakes and green rice.


Left – Regular pandan plant.
Right – Pandan serani

The picture below shows menkuang plant found in swampy land. It is of same family with the pandan plant but the leaf is not fragrant and is spiky on both sides of the leaf. Its leaves are for weaving mats and baskets. Giant pandan plants can be found on Pulau Ubin near Singapore but less common in Peninsula Malaysia whereas mengkuang trees are quite commonly found in some states of West Malaysia.


Menkuang plant



Vegetarian Ba zhang



  • 3 cups glutinous rice (soaked overnight)
  • 200 g chai poh(optional) – shredded
  • 50 g mushroom – soaked overnight and chopped finely
  •  2 dry chillies – minced
  • 300 g groundnuts- sorted and washed, soaked overnight, then boiled  for 30 minutes.
  • 1/2 tsp 5 spices powder(optional)
  • 2 tbs thick soy sauce
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 12 giant pandan leaves – cut into 40 cm length and soaked in warm water. Dip dry for later use.
  • 1/2 tsp pepper powder
  • 1/2 cup coriander leaves(optional) – chopped


  1. Fry the chillies, chai poh and mushroom together.
  2. Add rice and groundnuts followed by all the seasoning.
  3. Scoop all the mixture into a tray. Add 1 1/2 cups of water, some small pandan leaves and steam for 30 minutes.
  4. Wrap with 1 – 2 pieces of pandan leaves as shown in the picture below. Tie with a piece of thread or string.
  5. Steam for another 1 hour.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
Left- Bundles of Giant pandan leaves for sale in the market.
Right – Wrap the zhang with 1-2 pandan leaves by filling  the rice in the cone formed by overlapping the leaves and covering the top by folding the leaves. Tie with a piece of thread.

Picture below shows how it looks before steaming for another 1 hour. Picture on the left shows giant pandan leaves used for wrapping panggang. Glutinous rice,after soaking for one night, is steamed for 1/2- 1 hour with coconut milk and a bit of salt. Place the steamed rice on a giant pandan leaf, fold over, secure the open end with a tooth- pick and pan-fry on a iron skillet on low fire. Most panggang sold in markets are wrapped in banana leaves. This pandan panggang is full of pandan fragrance.Try this at home and you will thank me for that.


Left – Uncooked zhang.
Right – Panggang folded in giant pandan leaf

Some local people like to cook Ba zhang in ketupat case. Never seen one does not mean it does not exist. It is happening in Sarawak – people cooking Ba zhang in ketupat case, mostly not for sale.

Yes, we have Giant Pandan in Sarawak. For it to grow well, swampy or wet land is the key. For a piece of 20 inches long giant pandan leaf, some are selling at 40 cents. There are always some demand for pandan leaves in the markets because some vendors sells ba zhang everyday. 

                            So gardeners,

                           let’s plant giant pandan leaves.

                             Bundles of pandan leaves are selling well in our city.






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