Browse Exhibits (1 total)

Zongzi (粽子)


Zongzi (粽子) is a traditional Chinese food. It consists of sticky or glutinous rice which is wrapped in bamboo leaves, then steamed or boiled. Recipes are passed down through generations, as is the skill of neatly wrapping the rice with bamboo, and families will often all help out with the preparation of this food. Fillings for zongzi vary in different regions of China. For example, in southern China, zongzi is savory, and filled with shredded pork or chicken, salted duck egg, taro, or shiitake mushrooms. Zongzi in northern China usually contain jujube, preserved fruit, taro, cooked peanuts, or tapioca. These fillings are sweet, and thus zongzi is eaten as a dessert. The shape also varies from region to region; northern zongzi are tetrahedral, while the southern variety are conical [1].

Zongzi are most commonly wrapped in bamboo leaves, but sometimes lotus leaves, maize leaves, banana leaves, or other types are used instead. Each different type of leaf, though not eaten as a part of the meal, gives a unique flavor to the rice, as well as a distinct scent. Rice is another staple in this recipe; sticky rice, specifically, is always used [2]. Peanuts are just one of many potential fillings, as previously mentioned. However, peanuts are extremely popular in China, and the country is one of the top producers of peanuts in the world today, so this ingredient warranted inclusion.

Zongzi’s recipe is deeply ingrained in China’s history and cultural practices. Not only is it a staple treat in homes across China and Southeast Asia, it is also integral to Duanwujie (端午节), the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. Traditionally, the annual festival’s most celebratory component has been racing different villages’ colorful boats resembling dragons against each other [3]. In addition, preparing and eating zongzi during the festival complements the races by connecting the Chinese people with their rich heritage and age-old traditions.

The origin of Zongzi’s association with the festival may date back at least as far as the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046-256 BCE). The earliest account of Zongzi’s connection with Duanwujie maintains that the festival honors Wu Zixu (伍子胥), a senior politician of the Wu kingdom living during the Spring and Autumn period (770 - 476 BCE). Wu Zixu warned the King of Wu of the impending threat the King of Yue imposed on the kingdom. Believing Wu aimed to sabotage him, the King forced him to commit suicide and had his body thrown in the Yangtze River. [4] It is said that people raced their boats to his body and threw zongzi dumplings in to save it from the mouths of fish. Another theory for the origin of the festival may be to commemorate the poet Qu Yuan () of the Warring States Period, who like Wu Zixu, attempted to protect his state from attacks. However, he was banished by his wrathful king and threw himself into Miluo River in anguish. Again, people felt compassion for him and hurled zongzi into the river to protect his body from nibbling fish [5].

Although Zongzi is a traditional Chinese food, many variations of these rice dumplings are eaten in countries throughout the world, especially in other east Asian countries.  The Vietnamese wrap rice dumplings in banana leaves, making round dumplings to represent the heavens and square dumplings to represent the earth.  Together they symbolize the unity of the two, and are eaten at the Dragon Boat Festival to pray for good weather and a fruitful harvest.  Sweet versions that include coconut, taro, black bean, and pachyrhizus are eaten during the rainy season.  The Japanese wrap milled rice flour in bamboo leaves in a cylinder shape, while in North Korea “wheel cakes” are made by boiling and smashing Artemisia leaves and kneading them with rice flour to make a “wheel” shape.  In the Philippines, people make and eat long, cylindrical rice dumplings to celebrate Christmas. [6]

[1] Wu, Annie. "Zongzi." ChinaHighlights. October 8, 2014. Accessed November 11, 2014. 

[2] "Festival Food: Rice Glue Ball, Zongzi and Moon Cake." Confucius Institute Online. February 20, 2010. Accessed November 11, 2014.

[3] Yuan, Haiwang. "Dragon Boat Festival." In Berkshire Encyclopedia of China: Modern and Historic Views of the World's Newest and Oldest Global Power, Vol. 2. (Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing, 2009), 638.

[4] "Eng Suey Sun, of Taishan, Guangdong." Eng Suey Sun, of Taishan, Guangdong. Accessed November 11, 2014.

[5] Yuan 640

[6] "Zongzi (rice Dumplings) in Various Countries and Regions." Cultural China. Accessed November 11, 2014.

, , , , ,