Just Pictures: Making Zong-Zi for Dragon Boat Festival

Okay you are probably wondering what is a Zong-Zi and what is this Dragon Boat Festival?

Dragon Boat Festival is a national holiday celebrated in China and Taiwan, it falls on the 5th day of the 5th month in the lunar calendar, and is pronounced “Duan-Wu” in Mandarin.  It is said that in the Chu kingdom during the Warring States Period, there was a patriotic poet named Qu Yuan. He strongly opposed the alliance with the state of Qin; therefore was accused of treason and exiled. Years later when Qin conquered the Chu kingdom, the poet couldn’t overcome his grief and drowned himself in the Miluo River. Saddened by the loss of their beloved poet, locals wrapped sticky rice with bamboo leaves and threw them into the river so the fish wouldn’t eat the poet’s body. These is said to be the origin of “zong-zi” aka rice dumplings. The locals also rowed their boats out to find the body, with the loud drumming to scare off the fish, thus evolved into today’s dragon boat racing. There are different stories and theories claiming to be the origin of Duan-Wu Festival, this was the story I learned and grew up with.

{A freshly steamed zong-zi! The black spot is shiitake mushroom}

Zong-zi became so popular that every region has their own special version with different types of fillings. There are also dessert zong-zi with sweet red bean paste and jujubes. The one very special variety of zong-zi is called JiangShui Zong (Alkaline dumpling). It sounds a bit weird right? The glutinous rice gets soaked in lye water, and the color turns a very distinct dark yellow color. They are meant to be eaten with syrup like a dessert, sometimes they are filled with red bean paste but quite often they are not filled.

My parents continued the annual tradition of zong-zi making every year near the end of May or early June. (This year Duan-Wu festival falls on June 23rd.) This is the first year my parents let me attempt the wrapping of the dumplings, the previous years I simply observed and ate as many freshly steamed ones as I could handle. Wrapping and maneuvering the bamboo leaves require much precision and a quick pair of firm hands. I haven’t quite master the tying step due to my fear of the whole dumpling crumbling apart in front of me, perhaps next year!

The prepping process, quite like our lunar new year celebration, takes a few day to prepare, then the wrapping and cooking takes another day. It commences with a trip to the market for ingredients like glutinous rice, bamboo leaves, dried shrimps, dried mushrooms, peanuts, fatty side pork, water chestnut, kitchen twine, and salted duck egg yolks. Then it’s another full day of prepping and cooking the ingredients: Boil the peanuts, toast the glutinous rice with the peanuts, stew the fatty pork and mushroom with soy sauce, cook and de-shell the water chestnut, check the banana leaves for imperfection and soak them…etc. Much needed to be done before the assembling and cooking.

{top: shiitake mushroom, dried mini shrimps. Bottom: de-shelled water chestnuts. All were stewed in a soy sauce based mixture}

{Gotta have stewed fatty porkbelly in each dumpling! It literally melts in your mouth.}

My parents usually don’t just make enough zong-zi for our family, they make about 200+ every year to give out to relatives and close friends. That’s why we move the wrapping party to the backyard where there are lots more space to lay out the buckets of glutinous rice and the various fillings and ingredients. The wrapped zong-zi needs to be hung up to keep the shape, as pictured below, two chairs were used to prop up a wooden stick for hanging the wrapped ones.

Once wrapped, the zong zi gets steamed for hours. We took a shortcut and used pressure cooker instead, the dumplings cook in no time and we can get on with the eating!

Our favorite condiments for zong-zi are sweet chili sauce (甜辣醬), soy sauce paste (thickened soy sauce), or the reduced jus from the braised pork.

Zong-zi is a seasonal item and only certain Chinese restaurants will have them on the menu during this time of year. Many Asian grocery stores will carry them, fresh or frozen, in the months of May and June.

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4 thoughts on “Just Pictures: Making Zong-Zi for Dragon Boat Festival

  1. Lovin’ the new look of your blog! Wow, your family really has zongzi making down to a T! What a production. The hanging zongzi kinda remind me of when people hang their laundry, but, of course, much tastier. Such lovely and drool-worthy pics!!

  2. such a cool step-by-step pic of the wrapping process, I never knew how it’s done! both C and I are ecstatic (we secretly jump up and down) when we receive these little balls of deliciousness!!

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