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Dragon Boat Festival and the Zongzi De-Mystified

Learn the history behind the Dragon Boat and the magic behind the Zongzi.

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Created from scratch in the SideChef Kitchen, where recipe inspiration and ingredient experimentation are a way of life.
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Created from scratch in the SideChef Kitchen, where recipe inspiration and ingredient experimentation are a way of life.
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Everyone knows about Chinese New Year, but have you heard of Dragon Boat Festival? This holiday occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar (June 25th for us plain folk following the Western calendar)and doesn't involve bbq or firework. However, that doesn't make it less exciting. With heart stopping dragon boat races, plenty of wine, and delicious food, there's so much to celebrate.

Speaking of food, there's one that stands out on this special day: Zongzi

Zongzi

While Zongzi are available year-round in China, they are most popular during Dragon Boat Festival. Walk around any Chinese city during the festival and you’ll find Zongzi on the shelves of local supermarkets, at small roadside stands, and even a fancy iced version at Starbucks. Globalization, eh?

Zongzi are sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves. The filling found in the middle of the zongzi will vary depending on the region. Zongzi from the South are savory - pork, Chinese sausage, chicken, and salted duck egg. Go North and you’ll find that Zongzi are typically sweeter and may include taro, tapioca, and red bean paste.

Making Zongzi is a family activity and recipes vary not only by region, but by family. While all zongzi is typically made with glutinous rice, wrapping techniques, fillings, and preparation methods vary.

Zongzis are not only delicious, they have a fascinating history. In Ancient China, there was a famous poet named Qu Yuan. He was so distraught when he discovered that Ying, his country’s capital, had been captured that he penned “Lament for Ying” and threw himself into the river. When the villagers weren’t able to save Yuan, they beat drums and threw rice into the water to distract the fish and as an offering to Yuan’s spirit. His spirit later appeared (on the fifth day of the fifth month) to alert the village that the rice they had offered him was being eaten by a dragon who lived in the river. He requested that they wrap the rice in silk to prevent the rice from being eaten by the dragon. Viola, a holiday and a delicious delicacy were born.

Dragon Boat Racing

The dragon boat competition held in Fenjiang River.

The Dragon Boat races are also held to celebrate Yuan for his sacrifice. Each boat has a crew of about 22 people: 20 paddlers, 1 drummer, and a sweep. Races are usually sprints of 500 meters.

Use this holiday as an opportunity to get to the water, drink some wine and indulge in some Chinese food (bonus points if it’s Zongzi).

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