Dragon boat & Zong Zi

Making zong zi wrapped zong zi_edited-1

This Saturday is the Duan Wu Jie 端午节 or Dragon Boat Festival in China and across many Asian countries. Growing up in Shanghai, I didn’t see any dragon boats being raced down Huangpu River. Instead, it was a day forever etched into my memory with a spacial food: Zong Zi 粽子.

Like all Chinese festivals, there is always a story or two to explain the origin of the event. The version I grew up with has to do with a poet named Qu Yuan 屈原 (c. 340–278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu during a period of wars between neighboring states. He was a minister in the Chu court and advised the king against an alliance with the increasingly powerful state of Qin. As often is the fate with straight talking and loyal subjects, Qu Yuan’s advice was ignored and he was banished from court with accusations of treason. Twenty-eight years later, Qin invaded the Chu capital and proved Qu Yuan’s worries a sad reality. In his despair at failing to stop the demise of the Chu state, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River. The local people raced out in their boats to to retrieve his body and hence the origin of the dragon boat races. When his body could not be found, they dropped balls of sticky rice, Zong Zi, into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body.

Pot of zong zi 2 Zong Zi pile

Zong Zi is made with bamboo or reed leaves stuffed with sticky rice and a combination of savory or sweet ingredients. My favorite is the Shanghai Pork Zong Zi made from sticky rice and pork belly. The fat from the belly meat melts into the rice during the slow cooking process and gives the rice a soft and melt-in-your-mouth texture. The ones you find in Chinese stores here are the Cantonese version with peanuts, Chinese sausage and egg yolk which is also very tasty. But for me, there is only one Zong Zi, so what did I do? I made a whole batch of pork belly Zong Zi for breakfast, lunch, tea…

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