This article is part of our Dragon Boat Festival Family Guide. Sign up for our newsletter to receive our best activity, recipe and craft ideas before every Chinese holiday.
Rice dumplings, known as zongzi in Mandarin and joong in Cantonese, are the food most closely associated with the Dragon Boat Festival. Here’s how to choose between Hong Kong-style, Shanghai-style, Taiwan-style and red bean paste rice dumplings.
Rice dumplings are parcels of glutinous rice stuffed with different savory or sweet fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves. There are myriad filling combinations to suit any taste with ingredients that commonly include pork, chicken, mung beans, salted egg yolks, Chinese sausage and red bean paste.
You can find fresh rice dumplings for sale throughout Chinatown and at many Chinese grocers. Experiment until you find the store and variety that you enjoy most! Preparation is simple, just boil or steam the rice dumpling for 30 minutes and serve.
You can eat rice dumplings as snacks or light meals. They’re eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival in reference to the glutinous rice balls the villagers tossed into the Miluo River while searching for the poet Qu Yuan.
Here’s a guide to the most common styles of rice dumplings you can buy.
Shanghai Style. The simplest variation. A long rectangular dumpling filled with glutinous rice and a single lean slice of pork, then coated in soy sauce. The flavors are mild and clean without being too salty. Delicious.
Taiwan Style. This rice dumpling has the strongest flavors. Fatty pork, peanuts and Chinese mushrooms permeate the dumpling with a savory bite. A stronger helping of soy sauce creates noticeably moister rice. Powerful.
Hong Kong Style. This variation is big enough to be a meal. The addition of mung beans and the absence of soy sauce means this is the driest style of rice dumpling. There are healthy portions of fatty pork and Chinese sausage, along with an egg yolk, to ensure you won’t go hungry. Filling.
Red Bean Paste. A sweet rice dumpling to finish. A nearly tasteless bed of glutinous rice wrapped around grainy, deliciously-sweet red bean paste. It feels like eating any number of Chinese sweets with this flavor combination. Dessert!
HT: Photo by Ping Ming Health.