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Chinese pearl meatballs covered in glutinous rice in a bamboo steamer.
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5 from 3 votes

Pearl Meatball with Tofu and Shrimp

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Soaking time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Chinese
Servings: 25 meatballs
Author: Edwina


  • ¾ cup short grain sweet (glutinous) rice


  • 4 oz extra firm tofu about ¼ pack
  • 1 lb ground pork 20% fat
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • ½ teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 scallion thinly sliced
  • 4~6 pieces frozen shrimp thaw and roughly chopped
  • 1 stalk celery finely chopped
  • ½ tsp sea salt or to taste
  • 1 pinch five spice or thirteen spice powder optional
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil


  • 4 leaves nappa or green cabbage or any other kind of steamer liner


Prepare the rice

  • Soak glutinous rice in 2 cups of water for about 1.5 hour to 3 hours.

Making meatball mixture

  • Use a piece of paper towel to press and squeeze out the excess water of the tofu and then crush it with a fork or by hand.
  • Mix tofu with all other ingredients and stir with a pair of chopsticks or by hand in a circular motion until the mixture becomes very sticky and sticks together into a lump.
  • Scoop a little bit of the mixture into a bowl, microwave for about 15 seconds and sample to see if the mixture needs more salt.
  • Store the meat mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes or until you are ready to assemble.


  • Blanch the cabbage leaves until it's softened and line the steamer with them. Remove the thicker stem so that the surface will be even.
  • After the rice is done soaking, drain and pour it in a tray and pat with paper towel to absorb the extra water.
  • Scoop the the meat mixture with a ice scream scoop, toss the meat between two hands several times to eliminate the air in the mixture before forming it into a ball with around 1½ inch (3½ cm) diameter. Place the meatball on the tray with rice.
  • Roll the meatball in the tray to coat with as much rice as possible. Gently toss the meatball between two hands 2 - 3 times again to prevent the rice from falling off the meatball and place it on the steamer.
  • Repeat the same thing for the rest of the ingredients.


  • If using a bamboo steamer, place the steamer on top of a pot filled with about 1½ inch (3 cm) of water. Cook it on medium heat. Once the water boils, continue to cook for another 15 minutes. Serve when it's still warm.
  • If using an instant pot, add half a cup of water in the instant pot before placing a vegetable steamer basket in the pot. Line the basket with blanched cabbage or a few small pieces of parchment paper before placing the meatballs on top. Use the steaming function for 15 minutes. When it's done cooking, release the pressure after 5 minutes.


These pearl meatballs are often eaten with various dipping sauces.  In Taiwan, we usually enjoy it with Taiwanese sweet chili or thick soy sauce.  If you prefer to go without sauce, I'd recommend adding more salt to the meat mixture.