Yes, yes. I know it’s actually called Duanwu Jie (端午节) or the Dragon boat Festival, but alas, to me, the dumpling or zongzi is the most important bit. In years past, my grandma would make the dumplings and then call the whole family over to eat them and none of us grand kids would really get involved (except for the eating bit). Last year, I decided that I wanted to learn how to make these rice dumplings and I woke up early on a weekend (the horror) and made dumplings. This year, me, together with 2 of my cousins got together to help my grandma with the wrapping.
Rice dumplings are made of flavoured glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. Different dialect groups have their own version of rice dumplings with different fillings, my grandma is Teochew (潮州) , so her version contains pork belly or minced pork, shitake mushrooms, and chestnuts, which is my absolute favourite. Another type of dumpling which my grandma typically does is called the kee zhang, which, according to wiki is called alkaline water dumpling. It’s not to everyone’s taste as it’s slightly bitter, so it’s usually eaten with sugar, but to me and the rest of my family, tastes divine. To be honest, I don’t really eat much rice dumplings, largely because, well, think of all the difficult-to-digest carbs! Which is why I usually only have them during the festival and I pretty much only eat my grandma’s dumplings.
Rice dumplings are made by first folding the leaves into a cone-shape, putting in some glutinous rice, followed by the meat, mushroom and chestnut and topped with more rice. the bamboo leave is then folded over to cover all the rice. The individually wrapped dumplings are then tied in a cluster and boiled in hot water for about two hours. There is a skill to wrapping these triangle-shaped dumplings and while I felt my cousins and I did a pretty decent job, grandma made sure that we did not tie our dumplings in her cluster. Ours were meant to be consumed by family and hers to be given to neighbours and friends 😦 Grandma did try to make us feel better about our dumplings, but still *heartbreak* hahaha
The most popular story about Duanwu Jie and the one I’ve heard is that it commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a poet from the state of Chu during the period of the Warring States. Long story short, he was a loyal member of the state who was treacherously accused of treason and exiled. When he found out that his state had been invaded, he committed suicide by throwing himself into a river. The people of the state who admired him then dropped rice dumplings into the river to prevent the fishes from eating his body and that was where the rice dumplings supposedly came about.
To end off my dumplings post, I present you with The Zhangistry, a hilarious, but somewhat accurate look at the various types of dumplings.
Update: Watch this really cute video on Duanwu Jie made by the Off The Great Wall people! Don’t listen to the bacon bit though…