One important aspect of learning Chinese is to learn about Chinese food. During the Chinese New Year, we’d love to talk about dumplings and all the auspicious good food. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, it’s all about moon cakes and those wonderful seasonal fruits. Right now, it is about zong zi (粽子), as Duan Wu Jie (端午节) is coming up!
This year, Duan Wu Jie is on June 14, the fifth day of the fifth month in Chinese traditional lunar calendar. It is the season for dragon boat racing and delicious zong zi.
Last year, it was pretty quiet on the water due to the COVID pandemic. There weren’t any dragon boat racing which I knew of. No energetic thunder-like drum beats piercing through the warm summer nights in Hong Kong. No sight of slim dragon boats far out in the sea practicing for the big days.
So far, this year seems to be the same as last year. The news has been continuously dominated by the recent COVID outbreak in India and Taiwan. I will not be surprised if no dragon boat racing will be held this year.
Fortunately, zong zi is still here to comfort us.
Zong zi is basically sticky rice wrapped skilfully in reed leaves and tied with a string. It can be as simple as that, or as complicated as stuffing tons of ingredients in it.
In Hong Kong, people would put pork, beans, mushrooms, salted egg yolks, peas, peanuts, scallops, and shrimps inside zong zi. One zong zi like that is a full meal. I always had fun eating a huge zong zi like that. As it was filled with goodies, it gave me the feeling that I was hunting treasures in my plate. I kept digging up all the wonderful stuff as I ate, and never knew what would come up next!
While treasure hunting a big zong zi is fun, that does not diminish the enjoyment of a small and simple zong zi, just sticky rice with two or three big red dates in it. The wonderful flavour and the special texture of sticky rice are marvellous. And everyone loves dates.
In Hong Kong, some people like to dip their zong zi in soy sauce, while others like to dip in sugar. If you don’t like soy sauce or sugar, you can pick chilli sauce, vinegar, or honey. If anyone fancy guacamole and zong zi, I see no reason not to. Or just eat zong zi as they are, pure and simple.
Summer is here. We’ve been locked down long enough. Let’s have some fun!
Whether you are learning Chinese or not, it is time for a delicious zong zi!
Cut the stings, unwrap the reed leaves, appreciate the wonderful sculpture made with sticky rice, move your chopsticks, and start to enjoy.
(This article was first published in June, 2020. It was updated in June, 2021)
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