Zongzi - Traditional Food of Dragon Boat Festival

Zongzi, also known as Zong or sticky rice dumplings to westerners, is a traditional food for the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival food. It is mainly made of glutinous rice with other fillings, wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves and cooked for a few hours by steaming or boiling. Most commonly seen Zongzi are in tetrahedron, elongated cylinder or cone shapes.

 
 

Origin Story

ZongziIt is said that Zongzi, with a history of more than 2,000 years, was invented in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BC), which was used to worship the ancestors and divinities. However, what made the food popular till present days was the Zongzi story attached to the Dragon Boat Festival in the Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC) to commemorate the patriotic poet, Qu Yuan. Nowadays, apart from the festival time on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, people can also eat this snack anytime they wish.

 
 

Regional Variety

Zongzi is a popular food nationwide in China, but the flavors, shapes, fillings and cooking methods vary a lot in different regions. In general, northern ones have a sweet flavor with vegetables, dried fruits and nuts as fillings, while southern ones are likely fat and salted with different kinds of meat as stuffing.

 Cantonese Style
Zongzi in Canton is the representative style in southern China, and most of them are in pyramid shape, smaller than the ones in northern areas. The fillings of fresh meat, red bean paste and egg yolk are popular. There is also an assorted type with a mixture of diced chicken, duck, pork, mushroom or green beans.

 Fujian Style
Braised pork and soda water Zong are the two most popular ones in Xiamen and Quanzhou, the major cities of Fujian. The former one usually uses braised pork, mushroom and shrimp and lotus seeds as extra fillings. The latter one’s making procedure is much simpler. Put the soda water in the rice bundles and steam them thoroughly, which tastes softer and smoother.

 Jiaxing Style
Jiaxing Zongzi is sought-after during the Dragon Boat Festival. In a triangular pyramid shape, the most commonly seen ones have sweet bean paste, fresh meat, lotus seed, longan and peanut. The difference is that some fat meat will be mixed in the fillings, so that it will look brilliant yellow with oil cooked out of the pork after a couple of hours’ boiling, tasting of fat but not greasy.
 

Zongzi Beijing Style
As the representative in northern cities, Beijing Zongzi is smaller compared to the ones in southern areas. The bundles are usually in a pyramid shape, and the fillings are usually beans, dates and lotus seeds. Meat is seldom used as an ingredient, so most of them have a sweet flavor.

 Shanghai Style
With a strong flavor, Shanghai Zongzi have a great variety of ingredients, such as fresh meat, mushroom, chestnut, yolk, roast duck and red beans. The vegetarian ones sold by Godly Restaurant are quite nice, providing wide selections like mushroom Zong, sweet bean paste Zong and pine nut rice Zong. The beef Zong provided by Hongchangxing Halal Restaurant is special, surpassing other Muslim Zongzi. Besides, Shendacheng always invents the most unique tastes and flavors, such as curry chicken Zong.

 Xian Style
Actually, there is no big difference in the cooking method in Xian. With fillings of jujubes and osmanthus syrup, it has a mouthwatering aroma. Use a string or a bamboo knife to cut the bundles into slices, and then soak them in honey, the snack tastes sweet and tender.

 Hainan Style
Wrapped with phrynium leaves, it is kind of large, weighing about half a kilogram each. Most of them are meat bundles with fillings like yolk, pork, salted fish and chicken wings. Uniquely, the sticky rice is usually soaked in straw ash water, which adds a pleasant scent.

 Taiwan Style
Taiwanese Zongzi has a flavor similar to Fujian ones. The two most popular styles are Chengjia Meat Zong and Eight-ingredients Zong. Local people get used to making Zong with different kinds of meat and seafood, so most of them have a salt and sweet taste.

 

How to Make Zongzi
 How to Make Zongzi

1. Prepare the ingredients: sticky rice, bamboo or reed leaves, and some filings like red dates, meat and beans.
2. Wash the rice, and then boil the rice for 15-20 mins, or soak the rice in water for 2 hours.
3. Wash the leaves, and soak them in boiling waters for 5 mins, and then cool it in water.
4. Fold one or two leaves into a cone-shaped fossa, and fill rice and other ingredients in it with a spoon. The fillings should not be too packed, and then wrap and tie it with strings or boiled straws.
5. Put the Zongzi in the boiling pot and keep them fully submerged in water.
6. After 2-3 hours' boiling, put them in water to cool for eating.

 Further Reading:
Dragon Boat Festival Facts
Origin & History
Traditions & Customs
Dragon Boat Races

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