About Zongzi - Chinese Rice Dumpling

Zongzi is a traditional Chinese food, made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves or other plant leaves. It is usually eaten during Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. This year, the festival falls on June 23, 2012.

I still remember making and enjoying Zongzi as a child. Along with my brother and sister I hovered around the stove, begging to have a taste, unable to wait until they were cooked. We were very eager since the food was made only once a year on May 5th. But now it is quite different. The Chinese Zong Zi is not only made for the Duan Wu Festival (aka Dragon Boat Festival). It is available at any time of the year. And local areas have developed their own styles and varieties of dumplings.

The main ingredient of Zongzi is the glutinous rice. The next most important ingredient is the bamboo or reed leaves which form the wrapping and make Zongzi distinct from other types of Chinese dumplings. The filling often contains either dates or sweetened red bean paste. These are the ones I once had in my family. I like them much more than the ones with meat but my brother doesn't. He says the meat ones are terrific.

The leading place for the food is Jia Xing, an ancient town in Zhejiang province. Many different types of Zongzi are made here. At Wu Fang Zhai, a monopolistic food processor, you'll find all the ingredients you need: the dumplings with meat, sweetened bean paste and chestnuts, lotus seeds, dates, and yolk of egg.

If the materials are available to you, it is quite possible for you to make Chinese Zongzi at home; both for pleasure and maybe also to honor the ancient great poet, Qu Yuan.

A recipe for making 10 dumplings (Zongzi):
1. 50 sheets of bamboo or reed leaves
2. Glutinous rice (1 kilogram)
3. Chinese dates (250 grams)

How to make Zongzi:
1.Soak the rice and the dates 12 hours or more till they are soaked thoroughly.
2.Wash the leaves.
3.A chopping board is necessary for laying out the leaves.
4.Fold the leaves flat at the leafstalk to make a sheet.
5.Hold the sheet, fold it round in the middle and make a funnel till both ends are laid over each other in one direction.
6.Use about 1/10 kg. of rice and 6 dates for each dumpling. The dates must be covered by the rice so that they won't lose too much syrup in cooking.
7.Fold the leaves up to seal the open side of the funnel and tie the bundle with a band made of twisted leaves. Make sure that the bundle is tied neither too tight nor too loose. This helps make sure that the ingredients are well cooked.
8.Put the dumplings in a pot, cover with water and make sure they are pressed and kept still while being boiled.
9.Cooking time: 40 minutes in a pressure cooker; 2 hours in an ordinary pot.

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