Commonly known in English as “Dragon Boat Festival”, Duanwu Festival has been celebrated in China for centuries. Its roots stem from the commemoration of a poet and minister named Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the Miluo River after some dispute with the king. As an offering for the fish to forgo the flesh of Qu Yuan, the villagers rowed boats into the middle of the river and threw rice wrapped in bamboo leaves to satiate the appetite of the fish and keep the body of the beloved poet intact. Centuries later, the Chinese have kept this tale alive by celebrating this date with dragon boat races and zongzi (粽子).
Each region of China has their own unique blend of flavours for zongzi. The Cantonese prefer savoury ones made with dried seafood and pork, while Northerners lean towards the sweet variety.
Growing up in Beijing, I’ve always associated zongzi with sweet jujube and red bean. A bite of sticky rice perfumed with jujube and bamboo leaf spells out instant comfort. Of course, I’ve also made the savoury variety with soy-marinated pork seasoned with star anise, Sichuan peppers and Chinese wine, although the jujube variation is more simple to make and keeps well in the freezer.
So here is my family recipe for this timelessly delicious holiday treat.
Sticky Rice Zongzi 粽子
(Makes approximately 20)
- 30 dried bamboo leaves
- 200g dried jujube
- 5 cups sticky rice
- Spool of string
Note: You can find all the above ingredients at any local wet market or food centre. Our favourite is the Shek Tong Tsui Market. Click here to find the map.
- Soak the bamboo leaves overnight in a big bowl of water. This will soften the leaves to safeguard against cracking.
- Soak the sticky rice in water for 2-3 hours to slightly soften the kernels.
- Wash the dried jujube thoroughly, as sometimes bits of sand or dust gets stuck in the crinkled skin.
- Following the step-by-step photos below, shape each leaf into a cone. Depending on the width of the leaf, you might need to double up. Place one jujube in the bottom corner, then fill with 2 tablespoons of sticky rice. Add more jujube, then layer with more sticky rice until you get to the top of the cone.
- Fold down the edges to seal in the rice, and tie it all up with string. It will take a few tries to get it right, so don’t feel discouraged! Bottom line – as long as the rice doesn’t leak through the leaves, you’re golden!
- Cover the zongzi in a big pot of water and boil for 1.5 hours.
(Follow the steps from top left clockwise)
Bon appetit! Now you can impress all your family and friends with your zongzi wizardry.