Chinese Zongzi is a popular traditional food that is made from sticky rice, other fillings, and bamboo leaves or reeds or large leaves. They normally differ in taste, shape, and size as well as the fillings used.
In this post, we’ll be taking an in-depth look into what the Chinese zongzi is, where it originated from, why it’s eaten and when it is eaten. As a bonus, we will also share with you a simple recipe on how to make it.
What Is Zongzi Called in English?
Over the years the Chinese Zongzi has been incorporated into many other cultures including in the US. As a result, it goes by very many names. In places like Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, for example, the zongzi is commonly referred to as Zang, bakcang, or bacang. In other places like Mauritius, it’s called zong.
In English, however, the name refers to sticky rice dumplings. Although it is not the traditional dumpling, the technique of preparing is similar. It involves filling the sticky rice with your filling of choice and wrapping it with bamboo shoots, reeds, or large leaves. The wrapping is then tied with five red-colored strings.
Just like there are many names used to refer to this Chinese delicacy, there are also many variations of it. Each culture has a different way of making it in terms of the type of rice, the fillings, and the leaves used. The shapes and sizes will also differ. In China, the two main varieties are sweet and savory zongzi. The Northern Chinese are the ones who mainly eat the savory kind with meat or egg yolk. The southern Chinese are known to eat the sweet variety with Chinese dates and/or red beans
Where Did Zongzi Originate?
The zongzi is a traditional dish that came from China. Its origin is said to go as far back as 771-467 BC, during the Spring and Autumn period. Initially, zongzi was a ceremonial food that was offered to gods and ancestors. After the famous myth of the poet Qu Yuan who drowned himself, zongzi became a large part of what is now known as the Dragon boat festival. This started around the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty and the beginning of the Jin Dynasty.
Throughout history, zongzi has been referenced as being eaten during different periods. After the Jin dynasty, zongzi was referenced in the 6th century as being eaten in the Sui dynasty. People would pack the rice in young bamboo tubes and eat them during the summer solstice. In the Tang dynasty, zongzi was also referenced as being made with rice as white as jade and shaped like a diamond. From the Yuan to the Ming Dynasties, zongzi was again referenced, where the wrapping was said to have changed from Guo leaves to bamboo shoots and then to reeds. Today, zongzi’s are considered auspicious food that is especially eaten on the fifth day of the fifth month.
Why Chinese eat Zongzi?
There are many myths about why the Chinese eat zongzi. The most popular one is the tale of the famous poet Qu Yuan. He used to work as an official of the royal of the Kingdom of Chu and was considered to be a nobleman patriotic to his people.
His fellow officials, however, were jealous of him and often said bad things about him behind his back. One day they falsely accused him and had him banished from the royal court. After some time, Yuan drowned himself out of despair in the Miluo River. The local villagers, believing he was innocent, tried to save him. They took their boats out onto the river in search of him. Unable to find him, they began a custom of packets of rice in the river so the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body.
Initially, some say, the villagers would drop sticky rice stuffed in bamboo tubes into the river. One night, Qu Yuan is said to have appeared to one of the fishermen in a dream and cautioned him that the rice was being eaten by dragons that lived in the river and not by the fish. Yuan gave the instructions that the rice should be packed in Melia leaves and tied with colored string, to repel the dragons. This custom continued to be celebrated many centuries to come until this present day in commemoration of Qu Yuan.
When Do You Eat Zongzi?
Zongzi is a popular delicacy in China. As such it can be eaten at any time, but it must be eaten during the Dragon boat festival. This is one of the most important festivals in China celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
The two main highlights of this event are the eating of zongzi and the dragon boat rides. Eating zongzi during this festival is believed to be in commemoration of Qu Yuan the famous poet. It is done following how the Chu locals would take out their boats to the Miluo River and throw zongzi for the fish, so they would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body. This tradition of eating Zongzi during the Dragon boat festival has been maintained since the start of the Jin Dynasty when it was made the important food of that day.
How To Make Easy Chinese Sticky Rice Dumplings?
Depending on what area you’re from either in China or other countries around Asia, you will find different techniques of preparing zongzi. This varies based on your choice of rice, fillings, and even the type of leaves.
For an easy way to make zongzi, here six simple steps you can use to enjoy the delicacy in the comfort of your home:
Step 1: Prepare the leaves.
In this case, the two main leaves used are bamboo shoots or reed leaves. To prepare them wash them thoroughly and place them in a stockpot. Submerge them in cold water and add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to ensure the rice doesn’t stick on the leaves. Boil the leaves for 30 minutes. After that leave them soaking overnight, before rinsing them and snipping the ends.
Step 2: Prepare the fillings.
For the glutenous rice, start by rinsing it under running water and soak it overnight as well, or for four hours at least. After soaking, mix the rice with salt and light soy sauce. You can either fry the rice with vegetable oil briefly or set it aside for filling. As for other fillings, you could use meat like pork, beans, chestnuts, or even salted egg yolk. It depends on your preference of how sweet or savory the zongzi should be. You can prepare the choice of filling as per your liking.
Step 3: Wrap the zongzi.
Pick two leaves one slightly smaller. Place the smaller leaf on top of both of them smooth sides facing up. Shape the leaves into a cone and fill it with rice and other fillings. Once properly stuffed, fold the top leaves to seal the cone. Press it firmly with your hands to secure its shape and ensure it doesn’t fall apart.
Step 4: Tie the zongzi.
You can either use special twine from an Asian shop or kitchen twine. Ensure you soak the twine for an hour before using it. Once ready use the twine to tie the wrap tightly and securely.
Step 5: Cook the zongzi.
In a stockpot, add water enough to submerge the zongzi and bring it to a boil. Add the zongzi you’ve prepared at this point and let them boil for six hours. Keep adding boiling water, if necessary, until the time is up. Drain the water and freeze them immediately after they cool.
Step 6: Reheat the zongzi when ready to eat.
Once you’re ready the eat the zongzi steam it for twenty minutes. Keep in mind that you can preserve the zongzi for a month, so ensure you eat them by that time.
The beauty of Zongzi is that you can create them as per your preference. You can add the fillings of your choice and create them as big or small as possible. Aside from being delicious, they are considered auspicious food that brings success and luck to those who eat it. Next time you’re planning a vacation, make sure to attend the dragon boat festival and enjoy the authentic zongzi that’s been traditionally made.