To the eyes of an unsuspecting westerner, zongzi; resembles more of an ancient Chinese weapon or relic than something which can be eaten. However, upon unravelling the tightly wrapped string and bamboo leaves, sticky or glutinous rice can be seen, biting into a zongzi would also reveal a variety of different ingredients, from pork, mung beans to even salted duck eggs.For many Chinese, zongzi has always been associated with the Duanwu Festival, or Dragon Boat Festival, and like mooncakes, has its own story to tell.
Legend has it that during the warring states period of Chinese history, there was a great and famous poet named Qu Yuan who tried to warn his king and country of the expansionist policies of the Qin Dynasty. When his pleas were unheard and his kingdom was eventually conquered, fell into such grief and sadness that he drowned himself in a river. Regretful that they had not listened to Qu Yuan, the people tried to save him by throwing rice and later zongzi into the river so that fish would not eat his body before being recovered by dragon boats, thus the origins of the festivals name.
Although the historical background of zongzi are questionable, it does however have a merit of truth, as the life of Qu Yuan has been quite well documented and researched by Chinese historians. However, while retaining the ritualistic nature of mooncakes, zongzi differs in that although it is a traditionally a seasonal festival food; many Chinese restaurants prepared them year round for common consumption, and were always made from scratch.
Contrary to its outward appearance, zongzi is a rather tasty and hearty snack, with the additional of also being laden with Chinese cultural and social traditions. As Fung Hi Eng recalls “…I was taught how to make zongzi when I was still a child, the family would all help out and was something of a fun event.” Zongzi was also simply not limited to a certain style or recipe; almost every region and village in China had there own variation of the traditional rice dumpling.
According to Fung Hi Eng, “…every family has their own version of zongzi, some made them bigger, others put more ingredients in or steamed it longer…you could almost tell which region or village someone came from depending on how they made their zongzi.” Continue...