Asia · China · Cooking & Baking · Food · Netherlands

Eating zongzi at Dragon Boat Festival

Have you ever heard of zongzi? They are also called glutinous rice dumplings and it’s eaten at the Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 (duan wu jie). This festival falls on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar. This year that’s tomorrow on the 18th of June 2018. Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in China and different Asian countries, but also in Western countries with a (large) Chinese community. Zongzi is its traditional treat and we always make it at home. Curious about this snack and the Dragon Boat Festival? Read more about it below.

Origin of Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 (duan wu jie) originated from China’s Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046 BC–256 BC). In that time there lived a minister called Qu Yuan who was very loyal to the King and his country. One day he was betrayed by the other ministers and exiled by the King. During his period of exile he wrote a lot of poems, which was loved by the people. Twenty years later, when Qu heard that his beloved country has fallen, it saddens him and he decided to commit suicide by drowning himself into the river. The local people admired him a lot and when they saw it happen they tried to save him. They raced towards him with boats and tried to keep the fish away from his body by throwing triangle-shaped rice balls into the water and by beating on drums. Unfortunately they couldn’t find him, but from that moment on he is commemorate and the Dragon Boat Festival came into existence. Nowadays this day is celebrated by holding dragon boat races through the whole of China where every boat has one person beating on a drum and others will row with it’s rhythm. And off course there is the zongzi!

The triangle-shaped zongzi

Glutinous Rice Dumplings 粽子 (zongzi) are triangle-shaped snacks which are wrapped with bamboo leaves. It is filled with glutinous rice and different kind of fillings, like Chinese sausage, Chinese mushrooms and dried shrimps. Zongzi with savoury fillings is common in the South of China and southern Asia. In the North they use sweet fillings like red dates and red beans. I grew up with the savoury ones and I tried the sweet ones also. Even though I like red beans and red dates, to me it doesn’t fit in a zongzi.

   Every year my mother always makes it and I help along with folding them in a triangle shape. It is really hard! And because we only make it once a year, it is not easy to master this skill. You have to fold the first part of the triangle shape, put the filling in, close it in a triangle shape and then wrap it very sturdy with twine before you steam or boil it in water. See also this article with a step to step guide for folding it or watch this video below of my mother demonstrating it.

As filling we used ketan rice which is stir fried with soya sauce and we added shiitake / Chinese mushrooms 冬菇 (dong gu), dried shrimps, black-eyed beans 眉豆 (mei dou) and bacon cubes. After half a day of folding we could enjoy these beautiful zongzi. Have you ever tried it before? 🙂 Happy dragon boat festival! 端午节快乐!


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