Savory Zongzi with Meat Fillings (Sticky Rice Dumplings) – Glutinous rice with meat filling wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed to perfection. Unwrapping this savory zong zi are as exciting as unwrapping presents! I share tips how to achieve maximum flavor with shorter cooking time.
I’ve never imagined making 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 is 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).
WHAT IS DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL?
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.
MY GRANDMA’S STORY ABOUT THE DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL
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 have 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 all the stories out there, no one really knows 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.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF ZONG ZI
There are sweet and savory zong zi. The glutinous rice is infused with the fragrance of the bamboo leaves, which are used to wrap the zong zi. For savory version, the zong zi can be stuffed with meat, salted duck egg yolks, mushrooms, water chestnuts, etc. There are also sweet version of zong zi. Some stuffed with sweet bean paste and some without filling but dipped in sweet syrup. I grew up with the latter and we call it kee cang (alkaline dumplings).
The zong zi at my hometown 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 them 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), 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 the 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!!!!!
This video was made when I made Alkaline Dumplings/Kee Chang, but the wrapping is pretty much the same.
WHY DOES THIS SAVORY ZONG ZI RECIPE USE STEAMING METHOD INSTEAD OF BOILING?
There’s not only one way of doing thing. Boiling method is perfectly fine too. But mom told me that by soaking and precooking the rice, I can steam them and they can be done in about 1 hour versus 2-3 hours of boiling. The end result is the same.
WHAT IF I DON’T WANT TO WRAP THE ZONG ZI?
Then this No Wrap Easy Pressure Cooker Zongzi recipe is for you. The family loves this version too.
SHORT CLIP ON HOW TO WRAP THE DUMPLING
I was making alkaline dumplings with no filling in this video. I just want to show you how to wrap the dumplings.
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Savory Zong Zi with Meat Fillings (Sticky Rice Dumplings)
Things you can do a day before:
- Soaking the shiitake mushrooms in water
- Soaking the dried shrimps in water
- Marinate the meat
For the rice:
- 4 cups glutinous rice / sweet rice / sticky rice
- 4 cups liquid 1:1 ratio between rice and water
- 1 bulb garlic chopped- divided to cook rice and meat
- 1 Tbsp Cooking oil
You also need:
- 30-40 pieces dried bamboo leaves
- 1 ball of natural-fiber string
Things you can prepare the day before:
- Soak shiitake mushrooms in warm water until they plump up. Cut off the stems and slice into 1/2 inch pieces. Keep the soaking liquid and add some water to measure up to 4 cups
- Marinade the pork in the marinade. You can do this overnight or at least for 1 hour
Prepare bamboo leaves (on the same day of wrapping):
- 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 pat dry with clean kitchen towel
Cook the filling:
- Preheat the wok or skillet. Add 1 Tbsp of cooking 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 shrimp. Stir fry until fragrant and the pork is cooked. Set aside
Pre-cook the rice:
- Wipe the wok/skillet with a paper towel, don't worry if it's not super clean. Heat the wok/skillet again and add another 1 Tbsp of cooking oil. Add garlic and stir fry until fragrant
- Add the glutinous rice and the seasonings. Add 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. There is a short clip above this recipe on how to wrap. Generally you will need about 1-2 leaves, overlapping each other. If you have ragged leaves, you can use another 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.
Steam the dumplings (not boiling):
- 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 1 month. 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 15 minutes on high heat or until heated through