Zong zi is glutinous rice with meat filling wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed to perfection. Unwrapping this dumplings are as exciting as unwrapping presents! Not kidding!
I’ve never imagined making glutinous rice cones or known as zong zi in Chinese or bak cang in Hokkian dialect, on my own. I mean this was something I took for granted. Either my mom would make them or my aunt would make some or my dad would buy some. Regardless, we always had some to eat. They are also available at most Asian grocery stores too, however, I always miss the one I had at home. Zong zi are traditionally eaten at the Dragon Boat Festival on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (confused yet ? don’t worry about the day and the month, just focus on the food).
The Dragon Boat Festival is the commemoration of the death of the great poet and official of the state of Chu, Qu Yuan, during the Zhou dynasty. He wrote a great deal of poetry during his life and serve in high offices. He was accused of treason during the warring states of period. He felt despair and Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Miluo river in northern Hunan. People who admired Qu Yuan made rice parcels and threw them into the river in the hope that the fish would not consume Qu Yuan’s body and ate the rice parcels instead.
The version I’ve heard, told by my late grandma, was that zong zi is made and used as one of the offerings for deceased people. Zong zi made with glutinous rice is sticky in nature, so it will be sticky when eaten using hands. Some Chinese believe that the deceased person isn’t aware that he has passed away and hence, when he eats the glutinous rice cones on the 7th day of his passing, his hands are sticky and when he washes hands, he will see his fingernails that has turned black (rotten). He will then know that he has deceased. So, the zong zi is used to help them realize that they have passed away and rest in peace. Interesting story!
Despite of all the stories out there, no one really know for sure. I just know that Zong zi is eaten all over the world, especially in Asia. Of course as the Chinese immigrated to other countries, this culture is carried along and now is eaten in other parts of Asia and have been adapted to local taste too.
There are many different kinds of zong zi. The glutinous rice is infused with the fragrance of the bamboo leaves, which are used to wrap the zong zi. The zong zi can be stuffed with meat, salted duck egg yolks, mushrooms, water chesnuts, etc. There are also sweet zong zi. Which are usually smaller in size with no filling and dip into sugar to eat.
The zong zi at my home town in Indonesia is slightly different with the one in China, Malaysia, Singapore and other Asian countries. Ours are much darker in color and slightly different in taste and had a chili inside.
I decided to make it again this year. The day of the Dragon Boat Festival (which is different every year according to the Chinese lunar calendar, but don’t worry about understanding this part), which is on June 9,2016 this year, is the day of many important events in my life. My maternal grandmother went home (to heaven) on this day 16 years ago. I’m missing her and she’s the best grandma one could ask for. It is also my hubby’s birthday according to the lunar calendar(celebrating birthday for the 2nd time in one year, why not?).
Thanks to mama for the recipe and thanks Fuschia, for another great story behind this awesome food! I just had a bite and OMG!!!! Superlicious!!!! The sense of satisfaction for being able to eat it and made it from scratch!!!!!
- Soaking the shiitake mushrooms in water
- Soaking the dried shrimps in water
- Marinate the meat
- 4 cups of glutinous rice / sweet rice / sticky rice
- 4 cups of liquid (1:1 ratio between rice and water)
- 1 bulb garlic (chopped- divided to cook rice and meat)
- 2 lbs (almost 1 kg) of pork (with some fat preffered, cube into bite size) marinate for at least 1 hour with: 1 tbsp of soy sauce, 1 tbsp of sweet soy sauce, dash of white peppers, 1 tbsp of oyster sauce, 1 tbsp of sugar, 1 tbsp of fish sauce
- 8 oz (250 g) dried shrimp (soaked and drained off water)
- 16 shitake mushrooms (soak and keep water and slice into ½-inch strips)
- 2 Chinese sausages (cut into ½-inch slices)
- 12-15 cooked salted duck's egg yolk (optional- I didn't use them this time)
- 30-40 pieces dried bamboo leaves(It may seems like lots of leaves, but it's good to have extra as not all the leaves are perfect. Washed thoroughly and boiled for 15 minutes in water to soften and then wiped dry with clean kitchen towel)
- Generous amount of Vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp of soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp of oyster sauce
- 2 Tbsp of sweet soy sauce
- Dash of white pepper powder
- 1 ball of natural-fiber string
- Heat generous amount of oil and stir fry the garlic until fragrant. Add in pork and continue to stir fry until they change color
- Add in mushroom, Chinese sausages, and dried prawns. Add salt and white pepper powder to taste. Stir fry until fragrant and the pork are cooked. Set aside
- Wipe the wok/skillet with a paper towel, don't worry if it's not super clean. Heat the wok/skillet again and add generous amount of oil. Add in garlic and stir fry until fragrant
- Add in the glutinous rice and the soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, oyster sauce. Add in the liquid and lower heat. Let it slowly simmer and glutinous rice absorbs the water. Set aside and let cool
- Get the rice, the meat filling and the salted egg yolks (if using) ready for wrapping
- It's a bit challenging to describe how to wrap the dumpling. Google it and you should find lots of video. I'm a visual person so it's best to look at it visually. Generally you will need about 2-3 leaves, overlapping each other. If you have ragged leaves, you can use other leaf to cover by overlapping them so there won't be any leakage. Once you get them overlapped, shaped them into a cone
- Fill it up with about 1 Tbsp of rice and then 1-2 scoops of the filling (if not using egg yolk) and one egg yolk (if using) and 1 scoop of filling. Top again with a scoop of rice and press with the back of the spoon to make sure they are tight. Fold the top part of the leaves over (as shown in the video) and then fold the two sides down and fold everything to one side. It won't be a perfect triangle, and it's okay. Tied it up with the rope and there's no right or wrong way of doing this.
- Most people's recipes for zong zi is by boiling them in water, but not this recipe. Get your steamer ready to steam the wrapped up zong zi. Steam for about 45-1 hour (depending on how large your dumplings). You need to add hot water to the steamer as they cook as the water will run low for sure. So make sure you have an extra pot of hot water ready so you can add them when the water runs low. At the end of cooking time, you can pick one and open it up to check if the rice is cooked through. If it is, then it's done. Leave them to completely cool down before unwrapping
- If you have leftovers, you can freeze the zong zi in the freezer and it's good for maximum 2 weeks. When ready to eat them, you don't thaw them. They can go straight from the freezer to the steamer with boiling water and steam for about 20-30 minutes or until heated through
These are Amazon affiliate links to show you some of the ingredients that you may not be familiar with:
Here’s a stop motion clip I did to briefly show you how I wrapped these rice dumplings