During the Dragon Boat Festival the Chinese people eat zongzi to honour the patriotic poet and politician Qu Yuan – who drowned himself in the river when his country perished in the Warring States period, an era of ancient Chinese history. It is said that people threw rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river to keep the fish away from Qu Yuan’s body. It is traditional to eat zòngzi on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which usually falls in early to mid-June.
Today, people usually use reed or bamboo leaves (which are not eaten) as the wrapping for zongzi. (You can buy bamboo leaves from Chinese grocers.) The sticky rice filling may include meat, beans or bean paste, mushrooms, Chinese dates or walnuts. Some regions have an even greater diversity.
When my grandmother used to visit from Hong Kong around the time of the Dragon Boat Festival, she’d take it upon herself to make as many zongzi as possible, getting all of us involved in the assembly line. One of us would be in charge of scooping the rice, another the fillings, and my grandmother completed the task by binding them tighely so the filing wouldn’t fall out when boiling them up. I remember one year we had a bit of a competition and ended up making so many we were still eating them at Christmas!
600g glutinous rice, washed, then soaked in water overnight
300g dried mung beans, soaked in water overnight
100g dried chestnuts, soaked in hot water for 1 hour, or canned chestnuts
15 dried black mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
300g chicken or pork, sliced
1 tbsp salt
1/8 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
12-15 bamboo leaves
soy sauce, to serve
Drain the rice, beans, chestnuts and mushrooms. Chop the chestnuts. Cut the stalks off the mushrooms and cut into slices. Mix the chicken or pork with the salt and five-spice powder.
Place two pieces of kitchen string, each about 40cm/16in long, on your work surface. Put two bamboo leaves on top, slightly overlapping, at right angles to the string so it is ready to tie.
Put a handful of rice (about 80g) in the middle of each leaf, then add 50g of mung beans. Now add some of the chicken or pork, chestnuts and mushrooms. Cover the mound with a bit more rice (about 1k tablespoons).
Fold the bamboo leaves over as if wrapping a present and use the string to tie the parcel firmly. Make five more parcels in the same way.
Place the parcels in a large pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heatto low and simmer for 4 hours.
Drain and serve the zongzi with soy sauce.
Tips for Zongzi recipe
One of my favourite ingredients which you could add to each zongzi is a salty duck’s egg yolk. These are sold in all Chinese grocery stores.
How to wrap zongzi
1.Take two bamboo leaves and trim off the hard edges at one end, as shown in the picture.
2.Roll the bamboo leaves into a cone shape, as shown.
3.Fill the cone-shaped leaves with glutinous rice, then add two pieces of meat.
4.Add more glutinous rice and press it down with a spoon. As shown, do not overfill with rice.
5.Fold the top part of the bamboo leaves down until it completely covers the glutinous rice. Then, fold down the sides of the leaves and tuck them in.
6.Tie up the zongzi. Once all the zongzi are wrapped, place them in a pot to cook. (When boiling meat zongzi, make sure the water covers the zongzi. Bring it to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-low heat and simmer for 2 hours. Let it sit for a while after turning off the heat before enjoying for a better flavor.)