By: Xianggaoyuan Fu
The Zong Zi (Chinese: 粽子) is a traditional dish made with glutinous rice wrapped in leaves with quite a story behind it. In fact, there’s a festival that involves this dish. It’s called the Dragon Boat Festival or DuanWu Jie (端午节).
The story behind it occurred more than 2000 years ago, before China was one unified country. It was a period called the “Warring States Period” or the “Period of Spring and Fall” (春秋时代). China was divided into many states and they fought many bloody battles. In one of these states, the kingdom of Chu (楚), there lived a poet of great renown, his name was Qu Yuan (屈原)]. He was a great patriot and pushed for an alliance with the states surrounding Chu to deal with what he perceived as a great threat, the state of Qin (秦) (he was right; the state of Qin unified China and created the first Dynasty: the Qin Dynasty. They were also the ones who built the first Great Wall of China.) Unfortunately, he had many enemies in the court and they made his comments look pessimistic and unpatriotic and exiled him. The capital of Chu, Ying (郢) was then taken by the Qin army. After penning what is arguably his greatest work, Lament for Ying (哀郢), he committed ritual suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo river (汨罗江).
He was well loved by the people, so they went out on fast boats to dredge his corpse. While they dredged, they beat drums to scare the fish away and threw rice wrapped with leaves to feed the fish so they wouldn’t eat his corpse. His patriotism and skill in poetry is still celebrated in China with dragon boat races and eating rice dumplings. I remember that when I was small we would make zong zi and watch the dragon boat races on TV (we lived too far north for there to be any races where I was.)
WARNING: this is the hard recipe, try at your own risk. The ingredients are hard to find and harder to put together (if you’re not Chinese) but the end product (if you manage to do it correctly) will be delicious. Side effects may include frustration, anger and rice all over the place. Easier version is available below the hard one but it won’t taste as good.
(Makes 20 dumplings)
- 40 large dried bamboo leaves or other broad leaf (2 for each zongzi)
- 20 long strings (for binding leaves)
- 1 kg (2.2 Ib) long grain sticky rice
- 2 kg (4.4 Ib) pork belly, sliced into 3 cm (1") cubes
- 10 salted duck's egg yolks
- 40 small dried shittake (black) mushrooms
- 20 dried, shelled chestnuts
- 10 spring onions, cut up into 1 cm (1/2") lengths
- 500 g (18 oz) dried radish
- 100 g (3.5 oz) very small dried shrimp
- 200 g (7 oz) raw, shelled peanuts (with skins)
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup rice wine
- vegetable oil
- 5 cloves of garlic, roughly crushed
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 star anise
- 1 teaspoon five spice powder
1. Soak rice in water for three hours, drain.
2. Stir-fry pork for a few minutes. Add chestnuts, soy sauce, rice wine, ground pepper, 1 teaspoon of sugar, star anise and five spice powder, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Remove pork and chestnuts from liquid and set aside.
3. Boil peanuts until tender (30 minutes to 1 hour).
4. Soak mushrooms until soft. Clean and trim stalks. Cut into 2 or 3 pieces. Stir-fry with a little liquid from pork stew.
5. Halve duck egg yolks.
6. Chop up dried radish finely and stir-fry with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and garlic.
7. Stir-fry spring onions until fragrant.
8. Stir-fry shrimp for a few minutes.
9. To a large wok or bowl, add rice, peanuts, radish, shrimp, spring onions, a little liquid from the stew mixture and 2 tablespoons of oil. Mix well.
1. Soak bamboo leaves in warm water for 5 minutes to tenderise, before washing thoroughly in cold water.
2. Wet strings to make them more pliable.
3. Take 2 leaves with leaf stem or spine facing out. Overlap them lengthwise in inverse directions (pointed end of one leaf facing the rounded end of the other).
4. With both hands hold leaves about 2/3rds of the way along their length. At that point bend them so that they are parallel lengthwise and also overlap. This should produce a leaf pouch that you cup firmly in 1 hand.
5. Add a small amount of rice mixture, compressing with a spoon.
6. Add 1 piece of each pork, chestnut, mushroom and duck egg yoke.
7. Add more rice until you have nearly a full pouch. Compress firmly with a spoon.
8. Fold leaves over the open top of zongzi, then around to side until zongzi is firmly wrapped. Zongzi should be pyramid shaped with sharp edges and pointed ends. Trim off any excess leaf with scissors.
9. Tie up zongzi tightly just like shoes laces with a double knot. Normally they are tied to a bunch of zongzi.
10. Steam for 1 hour, unwrap and serve.
Note: Chinese groceries should stock most of these ingredients. They will almost certainly have the wrappers and strings in the lead up to the Mid-Autumn Festival. Eat zongzi plain or with a sauce of your choice. Wrapped tightly in plastic, zongzi freeze well. To reheat, thaw, and without removing the bamboo leaves, steam (best option), or microwave. Before microwaving, poke a very small hole in the wrapping and pour in 1/4 of a teaspoon of water to help prevent the zongzi drying out. To test for doneness, plunge a sharp fork into the centre of the zongzi. If the fork is hot, so is your snack. Different leaves used to wrap the dumpling will give it different flavors.
(Makes 10 dumplings)
- 20 large sheets of bamboo or reed leaves
- Glutinous rice (1 kilogram)
- Chinese dates (250 grams) can also be same amount of sweetened bean paste, chestnuts, lotus seeds, Chinese sausage, split and hulled mung bean, salted pork, Chinese black mushrooms, peanuts, taro and yolk of salted duck egg.
1. Soak the rice and the dates 12 hours or more till they are soaked thoroughly.
2. Wash the leaves.
3. A chopping board is necessary for laying out the leaves.
4. Fold the leaves flat at the leafstalk to make a sheet.
5. Hold the sheet, fold it round in the middle and make a funnel till both ends are laid over each other in one direction.
6. About 1/10 kg. of rice and 6 dates used for each dumpling. The dates must be covered by rice so that they won't lose too much syrup in cooking.
7. Fold the leaves up to seal the open side of the funnel and tie the bundle with a band made of twisted leaves. Make sure that the bundle is tied neither too tight nor too loose so that the ingredients are well cooked.
8. Put the dumplings in a pot with water over and make sure they are pressed and kept still while being boiled.
9. Cooking time: 40 minutes in a pressure cooker; 2 hours in an ordinary pot.
Source: Ronghe Yu.