A zhongzi wrapped up in a bamboo leaf with cooking twine
A couple of weeks ago when the hubby and I were in Charleston (we’ve since moved onwards and are now back, safe and sound, in lovely Kuala Lumpur), my dad served up an annual family food tradition — zhongzi. Every June for as long as I can remember, my parents devote hours to making two types of these special packets wrapped in bamboo leaves, one of salted sticky rice and fatty pork and the other with sweet rice and homemade azuki bean paste. Every year I’ve devoured zhongzi by the dozens, and rarely have I ever given thought to the fact that my parents only make them once a year because they’re the traditional food eaten at duanwu jie, the Dragon Boat Festival.
Unwrapped, a zhongzi is a marvelous sight — soy-sauce flavored sticky rice, with streaks of pork peeking through
As the story goes, Chinese people eat zhongzi every year in recognition of an old fallen Chinese warrior, who drowned in a river. The zhongzi were made and thrown into the river in the hopes that the rice packets would reach him and save him from starvation. It dawns on me, though, that if you’re drowning in a river, isn’t the first order of business a lifejacket of some sort, and not a packet of heavy rice? Just a thought.
Anyway, coming home during the summer always means that zhongzi are on tap, and this year was no different. My parents make a ton of them and freeze them ahead of time, and it’s definitely a joint effort — while my dad is the flavor expert, my mom possesses the swift, nimble fingers necessary to turn out perfect, triangular dumplings. My father, as blessed as he is in the kitchen, can’t always cut it in terms of skills requiring finesse. We used to call him “plantain hands” because his fingers were similarly shaped like that stubby little fruit.
The savory zhongzi are my favorite — I love the ribbons of fat curling through the pork (my dad uses a Boston butt cut, in case you’re wondering), and the sticky rice surrounding it makes for the perfect snack. If I could carry one of them around in my pocket every day as a back-up snack, I would. Would anyone judge me for that? I hope not.