Dragon Boat Festival and Zong Zi

The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, or Duan Wu Jie, falls on the 5th day of the 5th month on the lunar calendar. It is also the day people eat Zong Zi, the sticky rice dumplings. In 2017, The Dragon Boat Festival is on May 30. If you go to Chinatown, you will see a lot of Zong Zi for sale. There is a historical story behind the Zong Zi and dragon boat racing game.

dragon boat festival

The story from history

There was a patriotic poet called Qu Yuan who was an official of the Chu State in the Warring States Period. When the Qin state took over the Chu government, Qu Yuan was so sad and drowned himself in a river. People tried to find and save Qu Yuan by paddling traditional dragon boats, and by making and throwing Zong Zi in the river hoping fishes will eat the Zong Zi instead of Qu Yuan. Now on this particular day every year, people eat Zong Zi and have traditional dragon boat racing on the river in memory of Qu Yuan.

Other traditions

Drink Realgar Wine, hang Mugwort grass, and carrying silk pouches with herbal fragrance are also Chinese traditions around this holiday. Since it is one of the hottest days of the year, it is believed that Realgar wine, Mugwort herb, and herbal pouch will dispel poison and evil, and ensure health and peace.

zong zi

Zong Zi, the sticky rice dumpling

Zong Zi is typically made with sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, with different variations of fillings and shapes depending on the location. Every city has a favorite version of Zong Zi. There are simple Zong Zi with only rice and peanut, and there are Zong Zi with pork, Tofu, mushroom and other vegetables. There are also vegetarian ones such as red bean, green bean, or peanut flavor.  There is also sweet Zong Zi that is more like a dessert than a meal.

Zong Zi is usually in a pyramid shape, but it also comes in shapes such as flat square. They are all delicious, but the type from your hometown is always the best.

To cook Zong Zi, you can steam it or boil in water. Serve with soy sauce or custom sauce (sweet or spicy). It is easy to carry around for a convenient meal but might be too rich for some people.

In the grandparent’s generations, they like to make Zong Zi from scratch at home every year. Less so for the new generations because of the time and energy needed to make them. It is also very convenient just to buy. Now Zong Zi making is almost a lost art. Same as the fragrant herbal pouches. In the old days, they were handmade with silk embroidery of intricate flowers and patterns, but now they are all mass produced from the factory with cheap material and artificial fragrance. Sometimes I do prefer the old ways when people can take the time to prepare Zong Zi and craft herbal silk pouches to share with their family and friends. Even if the final products are not perfect, they are authentic and can not be bought from any store. Less shopping experience and more original effort.