A guide to Zongzi, a traditional Dragon Boat Festival snack

Updated 2018-06-11 15:45:02

Believe or not, Zongzi, the palm-sized snack made of glutinous rice wrapped in reed leaves, is one of the few traditional Chinese dishes that have the power to "divide" the country.

A traditional snack made to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls upon the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, Zongzi used to be a sacrificial offering to worship the ancestors in the ancient time. According to Chinese folklore, after the beloved poet Qu Yuan (343BC-278BC), an official with the Kingdom of Chu, committed suicide by jumping into a river, local villagers threw Zongzi into the water to prevent creatures from nibbling away at Qu's body. 

Stuffed with sweet or salty fillings, the pyramid-shaped snack boasts two firm and divided camps of fans across the nation - the Sweet Party and the Salty Party. 

Taking sides

"Are you a member of the Sweet Party or the Salty Party?" always becomes one of the most discussed topics on Chinese social media whenever the festival approaches. Sometimes divisions can become so severe as to cause fights between friends and even break up lovers. 

A similar division exists when it comes to other traditional Chinese snacks such as Tangyuan (stuffed glutinous rice balls), mooncakes (a classic pastry for the Mid-Autumn Festival) and Doufunao (tofu jelly).

When it comes to Zongzi, it is widely believed that southerners are mostly Salty Party members, while a majority of northerners belong to the Sweet Party. Why and how such preferences developed remains a mystery. 

While classic sweet-flavored Zongzi are often stuffed with bean paste or red dates, salty ones have fillings such as pork, salty duck egg yolks and ham. 

"Northerners put honey dates into Zongzi and they think those who like salty meat Zongzi are freaks… Gosh! It's those who eat honey date Zongzi that are disgusting, okay?" wrote netizen Black-eyed Xinyue on Sina Weibo.

"Zongzi with meat is disgusting! Can't even imagine it!" retorted another netizen Wojia Wofei.

While the debate rages on today, ancient records actually show that Zongzi were made of pure glutinous rice with no fillings at all when they first appeared some 2,000 years ago, and the shape varied from square to cylindrical. 

Nowadays, all types of strange-flavored Zongzi can be seen on shelves in Chinese stores. 

Not taking sides with the Sweet Party nor the Salty Party, Latiao Zongzi is one of the hottest trends this year. Stuffed with latiao, a highly popular spicy snack made from wheat flour, this type of Zongzi is said to feature a super spicy, pleasant and diverse flavor, according to netizens who have tried out the new product. 

Some of the latest jaw-dropping Zongzi fillings also include durian, crayfish meat or even swallow's nest - edible bird's nests made from the solidified saliva of swallows. 

DIY Zongzi

Ingredients (makes 8-10 Zongzi): 

2.5 kilograms of glutinous rice

1 kilogram of salted pork (or red dates or bean paste if you belong to the Sweet Party)

8-10 salty duck egg yolks

40 reed leaves

cotton thread to wrap the leaves

Boil the reed leaves in water until they become soft. Brush the leaves for a while to make sure they are clean and put them aside.

Soak the glutinous rice in water for 2-3 hours until it becomes soft. Drain off the water and add in soy sauce or sugar in accordance to your preference. 

Curl eight or 10 reed leaves into cones and fill them with glutinous rice and the prepared fillings. Wrap them into a pyramid shape using the other leaves and the cotton thread. Boil them for two hours and they will be ready to serve.

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