The Origin of Dragon Boat Festival

21 May
The annual Dragon Boat Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. It is a day designated for the Dragon Boat Race which is conducted against a backdrop of colourful flags and sounding drums. As the legend goes, the Festival is to commemorate Quyuan, a patriotic poet who served the kingdom of Chu centuries ago. Unfortunately he was not in the court¡¦s favour and disillusioned with the weakening of the kingdom, he committed suicide by jumping into a river. The villagers who respected Quyuen for his patriotism threw rice dumplings into the river to feed the fish so that they would not devour Quyuan¡¦s body. That was the origin for eating rice dumplings during Dragon Boat Festival.

As the Dragon Boat Festival falls in the early summer when bugs and germs begin to flourish, people in the olden days would hang herbs over their doors, and children would be carrying perfume sachets in their pockets to cast the evils away. Viewed as lucky omens, the sachets came in colourful silks and were delicately hand-made and stuffed with fragrances. Today, they are considered a traditional handicraft. Adults would drink specially brewed rice wine to prevent catching diseases.

To celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival, people from all over China make rice dumplings which come in all forms and shapes including triangle, quadrangle, pyramid and pillow. They also use different kinds of leaves to wrap the rice dumplings. Those from the South prefer to use fresh bamboo leaves which give the rice dumplings a subtle and refreshing smell. People from the North like to use two or three reed leaves to wrap the rice dumplings. Tastewise, most rice dumplings in the South are salty, while those in the North are sweet.

There are also distinctive differences when it comes to the choice of ingredients. In Beijing, there are three kinds of rice dumplings. The first kind is made of steamed, sticky rice and dipped in sugar. The second kind is filled with dates and nuts while the third kind is filled with red bean paste. Xijiang¡¦s salty rice dumplings are filled with fat pork while the sweet ones are stuffed with dates and red bean paste. Sichuan¡¦s unique spicy rice dumplings are made of pre-soaked sticky rice and red bean mixed with chilis, salt and preserved meat. They are wrapped in quadrangle shape, boiled in water for three hours, and then barbecued over a wired grilling so that the center is soft while the crust is slightly burnt.

There are three kinds of Fujian rice dumplings ¡V salty, meat-filled, or bean-filled. The salty rice dumplings are sticky, soft and smooth and are eaten cold with honey or syrup. Xiamen is noted for meat-filled rice dumplings made of pork, mushroom, egg yolk, dried shrimp and bamboo shoots. The bean-filled rice dumplings are made of steamed, sticky rice stuffed with fragrant, mouth watering beans.

Guangdong’s rice dumplings are bigger in size and come both in salty and sweet tastes. The sweet ones are stuffed with lotus seed paste, red bean paste, chestnut paste or date paste while the salty ones are filled with pork, chicken meat, egg yolk, mushroom and green bean.

Zongzi Introduction and History

The zongzi or rice dumpling is a traditional Chinese food, to which the Mesoamerican tamale is similar. In California where there are large Hispanics and Chinese descent population, it is often called ChineseZongzi tamales on the menu. Many other Asian cultures also claim these rice dumplings as traditional dishes. In Taiwanese, the meat version is “bah-tzang” whereas the vegetable version is “tsai-tzang.” Laotians and Vietnamese also have a similar dish.

The origins of rice dumplings are traced to the legend of Qu Yuan, a well-loved poet who drowned himself in a river. To stop the fish from eating his body, people made rice dumplings and threw them into the river. Another version of the legend states that the dumplings were made to placate a dragon that lived in the river. Rice dumplings are made for the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar

The fillings for the dumplings vary from region to region but the rice used is always glutinous rice (also called “sticky rice”). Depends on the region, the rice may be precooked or only soaked before using. Fillings may be sweet, such as mashed yellow beans, or savory, and may include pork, sausages, Chinese mushrooms, salted egg, and chestnuts. Some types of zongzi contain no filling at all, in which case they are usually eaten with sugar or syrup.

zongzi inside: rice, pork, sausage, chinese mushroom, chesnutsThe rice dumpling is usually a pyramid of rice which encloses the filling and wrapped in dried (or more rarely fresh) leaves. Bamboo leaves are perhaps the most common, but lotus, maize, banana, canna, Alpinia zerumbet and Pandan (Pandanus amaryllifolius) leaves are not unknown. Wrapping a dumpling neatly is a skill which is passed down through families, as are the Chinese recipes. Dumpling-making is usually a family event with everyone helping out.

The dumplings need to be steamed or boiled for several hours and one superstition says that dumplings will never cook if a pregnant woman enters the kitchen whilst they are being steamed. Dumplings may also be frozen for later consumption, but must be boiled instead of steamed when stored in this fashion. The salty zongzi is easy to cook when compared to the most difficult and hardest zongzi, the red bean (sweet). The red bean zongzi takes many hours to prepare. The red bean used to make the filling must be slowly cooked and simmered for at least 12 hours to turn the hard beans into a soft sweet paste. Any disruption of any kind in the cooking process will end up in a zongzi that is sub par.

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Posted by on May 21, 2009 in Food and drink


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