Originally published: May 2019
Edited & Re-published: June 2020
Pic 1: Getting sticky with the Dumplings
Summer is rolling on quickly. Our first holiday of the season is the Tuen Ng Festival, also known as Dragon Boat Festival. During this festival normally crowds gather to watch teams race through the waters of many Hong Kong bays. This year due to the Covid issues, the Dragon Boat races had to be cancelled. Along with the race, there is another interesting specificity of this festival, which thankfully many will be enjoying despite Corona.
Indeed, for those who are not aware another important tradition for this festival is eating ‘zhongzi’ - pyramid shaped glutinous rice dumplings filled with all sorts of ingredients ranging from red bean to abalone. Some members of Team LocalHood tried these sticky finga-licking-icious 😋😋 rice dumplings. Here is what we think...
Why rice dumplings?
The origin of the festival most probably dates back to more than 2000 years ago, to the death of Qu Yuan. This Chinese poet and politician who lived during the Warring States Period was known for his patriotism and was beloved by the people.
Legend has it that Qu Yuan, as an advisor to the king, tried to warn him against the invasion of an aggressive neighbor, but the king did not listen. After the enemy took over the capital, the city of Ying, Qu Yuan wrote a poem of lamentation called "Lament for Ying" before drowning himself in the Miluo river. When villagers heard about his drowning, they jumped on boats and tried to find him but it was too late.
According to Chinese burial culture the body needs to be put in the ground with honour. Failing to find Qu Yuan’s body, they beat drums, making loud noises and splashed the water with their paddles, to keep fish and evil spirits away from his body. People also threw clumps of rice into the water both as a food offering to Qu Yuan's spirit and also to distract the fish away from his body.
The legend continues that one night, Qu Yuan’s spirit appeared in his friends’ dreams and asked them to wrap the rice in three cornered silk packets to keep off a dragon who had been eating it all. The tradition of making triangular rice packets was born. Dragon motifs also began to be painted on boats to scare away the dragon.
Pic 2: Dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with grass
Many in our team had not yet tried these delicious dumplings, so we gathered together to have a taste! With help our resident dumpling connoisseur, Sze Yeen, we rounded everyone from our content team together for a feast.
She brought many dumplings for us to try, including a few from her recent trip to Malaysia.
What’s in them?
These sticky rice treats are made with glutinous rice and wrapped in bamboo leaves.
Dragon Boat rice dumplings vary in price and ingredients in Hong kong. You can indulge in abalone or try the more commonly found dumplings which contain pork, mushroom, red or mung beans, and salted egg yolk. Nuts are also popular in cantonese style dumplings.
Other regions also have their own variations. Taiwanese dumplings are wrapped in different types of bamboo leaves, while Shanghainese dumplings season the glutinous rice with soya sauce.
What we tried..
Pic 3: Top left, clockwise - Savoury Hokkien Style, Nyonya Spicy Style, HK savoury styles Mung bean with meat and red bean with meat
Pic 4: Trying plain sweet dumpling with palm sugar syrup
Where to get them?
In the past, dumplings were generally homemade, with recipes passed down through generations. This tradition of making the dumplings would bring family together.
Now, many restaurants and street stalls sell these dumplings for the dragon boat festival, some starting from mid May leading up to the festival.
The ones our we tried were from Pat Chun Store on Wellington Street in Central. Another highly recommended store you can find them is Tsang Kee in Queen Street Food Center at Sheung Wan.
Pic 5: Sze explaining the traditions of Dragon Boat rice dumplings
Preparing and eating your dumplings
Dumplings are cooked in boiling water for 2 to 3 hours. It can be eaten at room temperature.. Some prefer to steam them before serving.
Beware! They are sticky when you unwrap the bamboo leaf. So have somewhere to wash your hands close by.
What we thought of the dumplings?
After trying all the dumplings, the Nyonya Spicy Style dumpling from Malaysia was declared the favourite of the savoury. Both sweet styles of dumplings were popular but the plain dumpling with palm sugar sauce was the ultimate champion.
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Special thanks to Chew hee chiat for the photographs and video!