|photo credit: absolutechinatours.com|
Last spring I was in Shanghai and happened to get there just in time for the Dragon Boat Festival, a big to do that spans the fifth week of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. There are a lot of stories about the origin of the festival, or 端午节, but the story I was told was that there was a poet of significant importance who was exiled during a political upheaval. Distraught and set by a duty of defeat, the poet threw himself into a river next to his town to commit suicide. But, the poet was greatly loved by the people in the town, so they set out after him in dragon boats to save him. The boats did not get there in time, and the poet drowned. Therefore, every year dragon boats are raced out to save the poet drowned hundreds of years ago. (checkout Philly's festival from last year here)
Which brings us to this blog's favorite thing about festivals: the food. The Dragon Boat Festival really only has one traditional food called the zongzi (the z is pronounced kind of like "ts") or 粽子. Zongzi are made of glutinous rice typically filled with pork, but I've seen them with salmon, beans, or sometimes nothing. I'll quickly clarify so that you aren't surprised if you go to China and try these: pork is more often than not pork fat. Actual meat is kind of rare, in part because the fat is considered the really good part of the pig. If someone gives you the pork fat from a dish, recognize that it's a kind act and you should eat it. Probably it will be kind of weird to eat at first. For example, it took me weeks to be able to swallow pork fat, because I was raised in such a low fat, low salt household (I write that while eating a Chicago deep dish stuffed pizza, but still...)
How It's Done:
I have never made zongzi, but here's the basic idea: You take a bamboo leaf, which is a pretty long thin thing, and fold the corners in at the end so that you have a kind cone/pyramid scene going on. Holding that pyramid so that it stays in that form, fill it with raw glutinous rice and your filling until you hit around the top of the pyramid. Then you fold the leaf around the the filling keeping the pyramid form. When you reach the end of the leaf, tie and knot a string around it so that everything stays put. You then boil them to get the final product.
The zongzi I have here were given to me by my absolutely amazing roommate in Shangahai, who is the sweetest girl you will ever meet. Her mother like many Chinese mothers feared that her daughter, a victim of her generation and therefore unable to cook many classic Chinese foods, would be without zongzi that year and thus sent her tons of them frozen. Which meant that I ate a lot of zongzi. That was fine by me, as glutinous rice is one of my favorite foods. I don't know how to describe glutinous rice if you've never had it, but know that it is kind of chewy and that it sticks to absolutely everything. I tried to eat a zongzi a few weeks ago while totally jetlagged and end up with rice on my chair, the table, my sleeves, a bit in my hair... not a proud moment of dining, but that stuff is really good at gluing itself everywhere.
I will see if I have time to try and make this microwave style later this week (though don't hold your breath) and will report back if I do. This year's Dragon Boat Festival runs from June 22 to June 29, so if you can, find or make some zongzi and join China in celebrating