Zongzi - Traditional Food of Dragon Boat Festival

If you ask Chinese “What do you eat on the Dragon Boat Festival”, the answer must include Zongzi. What is Zongzi called in English? It’s sticky rice dumplings. It is the traditional and iconic Dragon Boat Festival food. That's why the festival is also called the Zongzi Festival or Rice Dumplings Festival. Zongzi is mainly made of glutinous rice with various 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.

Why Do We Eat Zongzi on the Dragon Boat Festival?

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. After Quyuan drowned himself on a 5th day of the 5th lunar month, people would throw Zongzi into the river every year on that day to protect his body from fish’s bite. Later, Zongzi gradually turned to be the festival food. Nowadays, apart from the festival day, people can also eat this snack anytime they wish.

What is Zongzi Made out of? 

The main ingredient is glutinous rice, but the fillings vary a lot in different regions. In general, northern ones have a sweet flavor with red dates and red bean paste as fillings, while southern ones are likely fat and salted with different kinds of meat as stuffing. They are wrapped into the bamboo or reed leaves to get the special fragrance. 

Regional Variety

 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 Dragon Boat Festival 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.

 Xi'an Style
Actually, there is no big difference in the cooking method in Xi'an. 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.

How to Make Zongzi
 How to Make Zongzi

 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.

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. Boil the Zongzi. How long do you boil Zong Zi? Usually, it needs 2-3 hours for them to be well done based on their sizes. 
6. The Dragon Boat Festival Zongzi can also be steamed to be well done. How do you steam Zongzi? Just put them in a steamer and steam; it needs a little longer time to be done than boiling, generally 20-30 minutes longer. 

How Do You Eat Zongzi?

1. The Chinese northern style sweet Zongzi can be eaten either warm or after cooling down and is usually sprayed with a layer of white sugar or honey. The southern style meat Zongzi can only be eaten when warm. 
2. Remove the bamboo or reed leaves before eating. 
3. You should not eat too much at a time in case of stomachache and digestion difficulties.
4. It should be matched with some vegetables.
5. For a slim figure, you’d better decrease the quantity of other staple food after eating Zongzi.
- Last updated on Jun. 15, 2020 -
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