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Why do Chinese people eat zongzi during duanwujie? And what has this to do with Dragon Boats?


The story begins with Qu Yuan, a patriotic statesman from ancient China who, once the kingdom he served fell, threw himself into a river in despair. It was said that the locals threw triangle-shaped rice dumplings into the river to stop the fish from eating his body.

Given its macabre origins, it’s surprising that the tradition is so well loved. But there are great reasons behind Chinese people eating these triangle shaped dumplings… They’re delicious, tasty and a massive part of Chinese culture.

Across China, people eat all sorts of zongzi, made with different types of rice and stuffed with different fillings. Some are savoury, some sweet. Confused? For a zongzi-connoisseur, this is actually part of the fun; hunting down the type they love most.

Here are the four types of zongzi eaten in different regions. Pick your favourite!

White Rice Zongzi

White Rice Zongzi

Probably the most common type of zongzi and remembered by many for its simplicity. A pair of green leaves and white rice to many evokes a memory of childhood. For a sweet treat, after unwrapping the rice, many dip it into a dish of refined sugar. In Sichuan or Chongqing, where people are used to eating dishes stepped in chilli, they’ll use brown sugar instead. Whereas in Xi’an, people eat their white rice zongzi with honey.

Yellow Rice Zongzi

Yellow Rice Zongzi

Yellow rice is actually a form of millet. In China, for thousands of years, millet was a staple in many diets. Widely grown in central China, around Henan and Hebei, yellow millet has been used to make zongzi for centuries. The steamed millet has a slightly stronger flavour than white rice. Served dotted with sweetened dates, it needs no dip to accompany it.

Jiaxing Zongzi

Jiaxing Zongzi

Jiaxing is a county in Zhejiang province, famous for its beautiful waterways and landscapes. But what earned Jiaxing nationwide fame is an exceptionally delicious type of zongzi – the meaty one. The meaty Jiaxing zongzi is stuffed with marinated ham. When steamed, the ham’s oil and juices seep into the rice, making it plump and sweet. The rice forms a smooth triangle as it expands outwards, forcing against the leaf wrapping.

Other than in China, different forms of zongzi are eaten in most countries in Asia. In Vietnam they eat a square-shaped zongzi, dipped in a sauce made with fish and salt.

Vietnamese Zongzi

You also have the blue Malay Nyonya zongzi, stuffed with rempah – pan fried shrimps coated in a range of spices.

Malay Nyonya zongzi

Want to get your hands on a zongzi during this year’s Dragon Boat Festival? Head down to SeeWoo Supermarket, New Loon Moon Supermarket, Wonderful Patisserie and many other places in Chinatown.

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