The Chinese celebrate Dragon Boat Festival on June 20 this year. In the lunar calendar, the festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month, so the festival is also commonly called the Double Fifth.
On this special day, people eat zongzi, sticky rice with meat and other fillings wrapped in bamboo leaves, to commemorate the life and death of famous poet Qu Yuan. After learning his kingdom had been conquered, he drowned himself in the river as an act of patriotism and sadness.
People admired Qu Yuan’a devotion to so much that they made zongzi and tossed it into the river in order to prevent fish from eating his body. Although tossing zongzi into rivers is no longer common, people still make and eat them during the Dragon Boat Festival.
Zongzi has different fillings depending on the region in China. Glutinous rice and filling are wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. Wrapping zongzi quickly and neatly is a art that has been passed down over generations in many Chinese families.
Allow me show you my version of this traditional Chinese food.
Ingredients (Makes 6 zongzi)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 cloves of roughly crushed garlic
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup chicken stock
2 star anise (optional, or Chinese five spice)
12 large, dried bamboo leaves (2 for each zongzi)
Thick long strings to bind leaves
1 lb long/short grain sticky rice (or any other rice you like)
1 lb pork belly, sliced into small cubes
3 links of dried sausage
15 small dried shiitake mushrooms (or any mushroom you like)
10 dried water chestnuts
Thinly chopped spring onions (optional)
For the filling
- Soak sticky rice in water for 2-3 hours, then drain.
- Stir-fry pork belly for a few minutes until gold brown. Add chestnuts, soy sauce, garlic, ground pepper, sugar, and star anise. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 1 hour.
- Soak mushrooms until soft (5 minutes if using boiling water.) Cut into 2 or 3 pieces. Stir-fry with a little liquid from the pork stew.
- Stir-fry spring onions until fragrant.
- In a large bowl, add rice, spring onions, and a little liquid from the stew mixture, and one tablespoon of oil. Mix well.
Preparing the leaves
- Soak bamboo leaves in warm water for 5 minutes.
- Scrub leaves thoroughly in cold water.
- Boil the leaves for 15 minutes until soft.
- Take 2 leaves (the long stems the run along the leaf should face out) and overlap them.
- Add a small amount of the rice mixture, pressing down with a spoon.
- Add a little bit of pork, chestnut, and mushrooms.
- Add more rice on top until nearly full. Press down firmly with a spoon.
- Fold the leaves over the open top of the zongzi, then around to the side until it is firmly wrapped. Zongzi should be pyramid-shaped with sharp edges and pointed ends.
- Trim off any excess leaf with scissors.
- Tie up the zongzi tightly and tie a double knot. (Tip: Use a fridge or door knob to pull the string straight)
- Steam or boil for one hour, unwrap, and serve.
1. Chinese groceries should carry most ingredients.
2. Zongzi freeze well. Wrap any unfinished zongzi in plastic. To reheat, thaw, and without removing the bamboo leaves, steam (best option), or microwave directly from freezer.
3. Before microwaving, poke a very small hole in the wrapping and pour in 1/4 teaspoon of water in to help prevent the zongzi from drying out.
Now that you have a general idea of how to make zongzi, try it at home! It’s fun to make, and even more enjoyable to eat. You can also try different fillings, or create your own version. Happy Dragon Boat Festival!