The Dragon Boat Festival, known in Chinese as “Duān Wǔ Jié” (端午節), is here once again.
What was once only celebrated in China now has international appeal.
Each year, long, wooden boats decorated like dragons and filled with eager racing crews create a wonderful sight on many rivers and waterways around the world.
And what is a Chinese festival without mouth-watering food to add to the celebration?
One traditional food eaten during this holiday time is the sticky-rice dumplings, or zòngzi (粽子), wrapped in bamboo leaves.
There is an interesting story behind the partaking of these little morsels.
Legend has it that the famous poet Qu Yuan was devastated when his beloved kingdom of Chu was captured by the enemy Qin during the Warring States Period. In despair, he threw himself into the Miluo River, clasping a large stone. His body was never recovered, despite locals rushing to the scene in long, wooden boats and searching up and down the river.
Glutinous rice balls were encased in leaves, wrapped with silk threads, and tossed into the Miluo River in the hope that the fish would devour the treats and not the body of the much-loved poet.
The tradition of eating the sticky-rice parcels during the Dragon Boat Festival to celebrate Qu’s life has lived on.
It is a highlight of this annual festival and different regions that celebrate it have created their own version of zongzi.
Southern Chinese fill their rice parcels with pork soaked in soy sauce or with bean paste, while in Beijing zongzi can be bought filled with dried dates. Or perhaps they may have chicken, eggs, or red beans inside.
Plain zongzi are also delicious and they can be dipped in honey or sugar.
If you are adventurous and want to give making some a try, here is a recipe for you.
Otherwise, go down to the river where there just might be a dragon boat race, and you are sure to find some glutinous rice balls and other culinary delights.
50 sheets of bamboo or reed leaves
2 lbs (1 kg.) glutinous rice
1/2 lb (250 grams) Chinese dates
Soak dates and rice in water in a large bowl overnight. Be sure to keep them covered in water.
Wash bamboo leaves and boil them in water to sterilize, and then let cool and pat dry. Use 4 or 5 sheets overlapping for each parcel.
Divide rice and date mix into ten portions, each portion will make one dumpling. Keep dates covered with rice to avoid losing the sweetness during cooking.
Scoop rice and date mix onto the leaves, folding leaves to make a parcel (can be a bit tricky). Tie the leaf bundle firmly with twine or twisted leaves.
Place parcels in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and then simmer, keeping covered in water, for about 2 hours.
Lift parcels out, allow water to drain off, and serve warm.
Can be refrigerated and kept for 3-4 days.
The next treat is not zongzi, but it is something a bit easier to make and very delicious!
Stuffed Chinese Mushrooms
15 large shitake mushrooms, dried and stems removed.
.33 lbs (150g) of pork, minced
1/4 slice Chinese salted turnip, rinsed and chopped.
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
6 water chestnuts (canned), finely chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white sugar
Remove stems from mushrooms. Discard.
In a medium-sized bowl, thoroughly mix the pork, turnip, soy sauce, water chestnuts, salt, and sugar.
Spoon stuffing tightly into mushroom caps. Place in a steamer basket, over boiling water, with the stuffing side up. Cover, and cook for about half an hour (or until done). Serve hot.
Enjoy the festival!