For thousands of years, the fifth day of the fifth Lunar month has marked the ‘Dragon Boat Festival,’ a traditional Chinese Holiday called ‘Tuen Ng’ in Cantonese and ‘Duanwu Jie’ in Mandarin and also known as ‘Dumpling Festival.’ This year the holiday falls on Sunday, June 5, 2022.
Throughout generations, the renowned Dragon Boat Festival has been a true ode to the development and meticulous refinement of Chinese cuisine. With various dishes hailing from each region to fulfill cultural traditions, one remains the most popular and profound regardless of what part of the world you’re celebrating - ‘Zongzi’ also known as ‘Sticky Rice Dumplings.’
Our Founder, Shuobi Wu has many fond memories celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival growing up. His favourite was always prepping the Zongzi with his aunt, an avid food enthusiast who would always source the freshest local ingredients for her zongzi every year.
“I remember she was very meticulous about her choice of leaves. Using a hundred percent dried bamboo leaves mixed with condensed flavour always made the zongzi taste so sophisticated, even though they are much harder to wrap. She’s not easy-going when it comes to food,” says Wu.
How did zongzi and the Dragon Boat Festival become synonymous?
As with many legends, there’s a nostalgic tale behind this festival filled with propelling patriotism, emotionally charged poetry and a melancholy death that led to the celebration of a national hero, Qu Yuan.
Known and beloved as a great romantic poet, Qu Yuan was an advisor in the courts during the first feudal dynasty. He was exiled for an act of perceived disloyalty to the emperor, when in fact he was righteously strategizing to protect and honour his state. Not long after his exile, the emperor was imprisoned and the nation was overthrown by their rivals.
During Qu Yuan’s exile he penned many poems expressing his deep love for his country. Legend has it that the news of his collapsed state broke his heart and filled him with so much remorse that he drowned himself in the Milou River after writing his final poem. Villagers threw bundles of lotus-wrapped rice dumplings into the river to desperately try and save Qu Yuan from being fed to the fishes and away from evil spirits.
Today, zongzi is symbolic of the rice dumplings and acts as an offering to Qu Yuan’s spirit and the passionate dragon boat races are a representation of the search for Qu Yuan’s body.
Making zongzi today
The basic recipe for Zongzi consists of glutenous, sticky rice to make rice dumplings, wrapped in bamboo leaves in the shape of a pyramid. Through generations this recipe has taken many forms, from the burgeoning combinations of avant-garde Chinese chefs to pioneering comforts of home kitchens. This delicacy can be made sweet or savoury and stuffed with everything from egg yolks, steamed pork, red bean paste or jujubes (dates).
“I always loved the smell of the leaves - sweet, slightly bitter, but not grassy,” Wu explains. “My aunt also loved mixing the sticky rice with premium ingredients like dried shrimp. Sourced locally, they were twice the size of those you usually find in a grocery store and they were much sweeter, fresh, and a perfect chewiness.”
“Then she would add salted and roasted shiitake mushrooms and pork belly chunks that were cut into precisely half-thin half-fatty pieces, steamed and marinated for a day making the combined texture perfect for the sticky rice.”
To celebrate, purchase a variety of these Rice Dumplings from Vancouver’s T&T Market. Alternatively, if you want to try your hand at making your own, this recipe for Cantonese-style Zongzi is a fantastic place to start. Serve on a 11.5” Ceramic Party Plate from our Blue Collection or a 10” Dinner Plate in Brandy Red to let your Zongzi shine as you celebrate this beloved festival.Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media for more recipes directly from our heritage.