Treats for your inner dragon

China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-23 07:45

Treats for your inner dragon

Zongzi, the pyramid-shaped steamed glutinous rice packages in bamboo or reed leaves, will be the most popular dish during the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival. [Photo provided to China Daily]

That's the legend. But in fact, Echo Zhao writes in The World of Chinese, "Zongzi existed long before Qu Yuan did. Five hundred thousand years ago, our ancestors were already wrapping food in leaves, and roasting it in the fire. By the time of the Warring States, it had become a customary version of fast food, especially for farmers, who were too busy in the fields to head home for a meal."

Zongzi, rice dumplings wrapped in leaves, remain with us today as the traditional way to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival. They've been called everything from "Chinese tamales" to "tenderly wrapped packages of pure love".

In general, northern Chinese prefer sweet versions of these steamed treats, while southerners like 'em savory.

It's not quite that simple, though: In Beijing, it's usual to stuff the glutinous white or purple rice packages with candied or dried jujube, the Chinese red date. Some zongzi are left plain, to be dipped into sugar.

Get south of the Yangtze River, however, and creative locals over centuries have added salted egg yolk, ham, braised pork, chestnuts, fragrant mushroom or barbecued pork instead of (or in addition to) "traditional" red-bean paste or Chinese dates. Shapes can vary, too, from cones to simple triangles to Pythagorean pyramids with perfect corners. The last require considerable skill in making and tying so that they retain their shapes in the steamers. (If you try this at home and they disintegrate, they should still be delicious.)

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