Wednesday, October 4, 2023
HomePastaRejoice Dragon Boat Pageant with This Gloriously Sticky Snack

Rejoice Dragon Boat Pageant with This Gloriously Sticky Snack


For so long as I can keep in mind, I’ve heard the identical story yearly throughout Dragon Boat Pageant. The lasting story has been handed down over centuries, every technology telling it to the following. Some years, a instructor on the Chinese language language college I dutifully attended each Sunday afternoon would go round a printout recounting the traditional allegory. Different years, my father would recount the story on the breakfast desk—earlier than all of us dug right into a plate piled excessive with sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves.

The observance of Dragon Boat Pageant, held yearly on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, is inseparable from this dish, which I grew up calling zongzi. Relying the place you might be on the planet, it goes by completely different names (together with joong and bak zhang) and may be candy or savory, made with completely different strategies and starring numerous fillings. 

As with many holidays, actual particulars of the competition’s origins are hazy, with differing narratives colliding and coalescing over time. Essentially the most enduring clarification of why we observe the vacation is that the competition commemorates the poet Qu Yuan, who served as an advisor within the courtroom of Chu throughout China’s Warring States interval (475 – 221 BCE). When he warned the emperor in regards to the looming menace posed by the state of Qin, others within the courtroom disagreed and slandered him; the emperor, perceiving disloyalty, exiled Qu Yuan. The advisor’s instincts, nevertheless, had been proper; the Chu capital was captured, and a heartbroken Qu Yuan drowned himself within the river. Native villagers paddled out onto the water in boats to seek for his physique, beating drums and splashing the water to fend off fish and evil spirits. They tossed packets of rice into the river, to feed the fish and maintain them away from Qu Yuan’s corpse. In line with folklore, these occasions helped give beginning to Dragon Boat Pageant traditions that stick with it till today.

Regardless of the vacation’s somber origins, the time-honored customized of creating and consuming zongzi has developed right into a cherished (and year-round) affair. Making ready them is a labor of affection, normally a multi-day course of that features soaking the leaves in a single day, marinating the fillings for hours, and painstakingly wrapping and tying every package deal with twine. (My colleague Kat Craddock realized the way to make them from Mei Zeng, her Chinese language American good friend’s mom and a proficient house prepare dinner who lives in Brooklyn.) I’ve witnessed—and took part in—the advanced course of numerous instances, as some of the famend locations in China to get pleasure from zongzi is my mom’s hometown of Jiaxing, a metropolis in Jap China’s Zhejiang province. Wufangzhai, arguably essentially the most well-known zongzi model within the nation, originated there, so in case you point out Jiaxing to anybody in China, there’s an excellent likelihood they’ll exclaim one thing about zongzi, even when they’ve by no means visited town in particular person. Every time my household reunites with our family members in Jiaxing, zongzi is at all times our very first meal—and certainly one of my favourite issues on the planet to eat.

Although I’ve a smooth spot for the zongzi from my ancestral hometown, top-of-the-line issues about sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves is the variety of cooking strategies, fillings, and shapes discovered throughout China and Asia, with completely different areas popularizing their very own renditions of the snack. A unifying theme—apart from being delicious—is that many sorts are strongly related to Dragon Boat Pageant. Listed here are a number of varieties to get pleasure from this yr, and a few spots the place you will get them in New York Metropolis.

Savory Cantonese

Sticky Rice Dumplings Zongzi Dragon Boat Festival Cantonese
Cantonese-style sticky rice usually consists of savory elements like salted egg yolks and sausages. Pictures by Belle Morizio

Cantonese-style sticky rice parcels usually characteristic savory elements like peanuts, salted egg yolks, Chinese language sausages, pork, and mung bean, the final of which offers a creamy distinction to the gooey rice. Like with a lot Cantonese cooking, seasonings are comparatively mild, leaving room for the inherent flavors of the person elements to shine. Even “the leaf releases its personal perfume,” says Sarah Leung, who writes the Chinese language meals weblog The Woks of Life together with her household. With so many alternative elements wrapped up in every particular person package deal, no two bites are the identical. Search for this number of sticky rice at Mee Sum Cafe or Ho Gained Bake in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Alkaline Cantonese

Sticky Rice Dumplings Zongzi Dragon Boat Festival Red Bean
Lye water offers this selection, usually thought-about one other Cantonese fashion, its attribute amber hue. Pictures by Belle Morizio

Additionally emblematic of Southern China’s Cantonese delicacies is that this candy fashion that requires soaking the glutinous rice in lye water, an alkaline liquid that features potassium carbonate. This step makes the rice softer and stickier and causes the kernels to tackle an amber hue as they prepare dinner. “Utilizing the alkaline will launch the colour from the leaves, so it sort of dyes the rice into that yellow shade,” says Maggie Zhu, who created the Chinese language meals weblog Omnivore’s Cookbook. The rice is usually stuffed with crimson bean paste, and served with honey or sugar for added sweetness. Do that selection at Mee Sum Cafe or Ho Gained Bake.

Northern Chinese language

Sticky Rice Dumplings Zongzi Dragon Boat Festival Shanghai Red
Creamy crimson bean paste is usually the star ingredient in candy Northern Chinese language zongzi. Pictures by Belle Morizio

It isn’t solely Southern China that prefers its sticky rice with a little bit of sugar. Candy varieties additionally dominate in Northern China, the place the rice doesn’t require any lye water and is thus chewier and firmer in texture. In line with Zhu, who grew up in Beijing, crimson bean zongzi are widespread there, although it’s additionally frequent to combine the entire beans immediately into the rice. Attempt candy crimson bean zongzi at Mee Sum Cafe (the place it’s labeled Shanghai-style, as this ingredient can be beloved within the jap Chinese language metropolis), or pay a go to to the Zongzi Woman who has bought completely different sorts of leaf-wrapped sticky rice exterior New York Metropolis’s Grand Avenue subway station for over a decade. Zhu’s household additionally likes so as to add dried fruit into candy mixtures: “My grandma and my mother, they normally make one with jujubes,” which steam alongside the rice and launch their perfume because the dish cooks.


Sticky Rice Dumplings Zongzi Dragon Boat Festival Malaysian
Bunga telang offers Malaysian-style bak zhang its signature blue hue. Pictures by Belle Morizio

Once you unwrap sticky rice from bamboo leaves in Malaysia, the place the dish is known as bak zhang, you’ll usually discover one nook of the rice has been dyed blue, courtesy of bunga telang, a butterfly pea flower. “It’s imagined to convey good luck and chase away evil,” says Christina Arokiasamy, a chef who hails from Malaysia. Galangal, coriander seeds, and white peppercorn give the sticky rice an herbaceous aroma. The dish additionally provides a stability between candy and savory, due to candied winter melon and pork stomach. Discover it at Kopitiam in Manhattan’s Decrease East Facet.


Sticky Rice Dumplings Zongzi Dragon Boat Festival Shanghai Red Pork
In Shanghai-style zongzi, fatty pork melts because it cooks, distributing taste and richness all through the rice. Pictures by Belle Morizio

In savory Shanghai-style zongzi, pork is the star of the present. For distinction and stability, these parcels usually embody each fatty and lean chunks of meat. Because the zongzi boil and prepare dinner, the fats melts, depositing taste into each kernel. The ensuing style is luscious and wealthy, but doesn’t style heavy. Earlier than wrapping, cooks coat the rice and fillings in soy sauce, which imparts unparalleled umami. Have a style for your self at Chinatown’s Supreme Restaurant.


Sticky Rice Dumplings Zongzi Dragon Boat Festival
Taiwan’s sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves usually options seafood like dried shrimp and dried scallops. Pictures by Belle Morizio

Annie Wang, a Taiwanese American meals author who blogs at Frites & Fries, grew up consuming a rendition of sticky rice emblematic of Taiwan. “For my household, each my mother and pop’s sides, we’re very pro-savory,” she says. Given the island’s strong shrimping business, Wang explains, it’s no shock that zongzi from the southwest metropolis of Tainan usually embody dried shrimp, in addition to shiitake mushrooms, dried scallops, peanuts, and pork. Pattern a home made model from the Zongzi Woman herself.




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