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Zongzi making and Dragon Boat – only for the brave of heart

zongzi

Hard to make, easy to eat, zongzi come round once a year during the Dragon Boat Festival. And, as with most Chinese cuisine, there’s a story behind them.

If you can tie knots like a Boy Scout and have the patience of a sloth-handler, then maybe, just maybe, you have what it takes to make zongzi – a leaf-wrapped rice parcel and traditional Chinese treat eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival.

Peel back the dark-green fronds and you enter a steaming, fragrant world of savoury, sticky rice. Here, slivers of cured pork belly lurk among split mung beans, brined duck egg, peanuts, earthy black mushrooms and salty Chinese sausage. This is dark, saucy zongzi, not at all like sweet zongzi.

meat-zongzi

Zongzi – a traditional Chinese treat eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival.

Sweet zongzi is what they like up north. Out from the leafy cocoon emerges a delicate gooey rice pudding of red bean paste and sticky dates. Its casing, however, is made from reeds not bamboo – the only proper way to wrap zongzi according to the sweet-tooth camp.

The sweet vs savoury divide is so strong, every year indignant zongzi lovers will take to social media to battle it out over its one true taste. Southerners balk at the thought of a sweet interior and northerners would never dream of tiptoeing over to the savoury side.

Those lacking in the culinary skills department may struggle to make zongi, they’re tricky little fellas to make. Preparing zongzi is a bit like wrapping a present. But, instead of scissors and sticky tape, you’ll be coordinating the operation with bamboo leaves and string. Don’t forget, they’ll need a perfect pyramid shape too.

sweet-zongzi

Zongzi can either be sweet or savoury. The choice is yours.

The rice filling needs to be gloopy and glutinous to stick together, so it helps to soak it overnight. Here’s where you decide whether you’re Team Sweet or Team Savoury. Opt for your filling of choice and combine with the rice.

Boil the bamboo leaves and, once cooled, dollop a spoon full of your filling into the leaf. Here’s the fiddly bit – carefully fold the leaf around the rice into a triangular shape and secure with twine. Simmer for 20 minutes in boiling water, allow to cool and get ready to unwrap…

The fun part here will be watching your precious bundles of joy (by this point you’ve probably named them) get ripped apart in seconds.

Zongzi is eaten annually as part of the legend behind Dragon Boat Festival – a day that commemorates the death of poet and banished court advisor Qu Yuan. It’s said that, he was so sad after learning of his country’s invasion, that he drowned himself in the river Miluo (277 BC). Villagers immediately rowed out to save him, but arrived too late. Instead, they beat drums and threw parcels of rice into the water to keep underworld spirits and fish away. Since then, the day has been marked with dragon boat racing and zongzi eating. The festival falls on the 5th day of the 5th month on the Chinese calendar.

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A Dragon Boat Race.

If you’re not brave enough to attempt your own, be sure to pop to Chinatown during the Dragon Boat Festival where you’ll find zongzi in abundance in its bakeries and supermarkets. Mark it in your calendar, for zongzi only come round once a year.

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