Zongzi – learning an old tradition
A long long time ago, there was a man named Quyuan who was a wise and loyal advisor to a king in China. The other advisors became jealous of Quyuan and began to spread lies and rumors. When the king heard of these rumors, he became angry and banished Quyuan to exile. Quyuan spent his time in exile writing poetry expressing his sorrow and despair about the king’s decision and how he could no longer help the people. He was so overcome with grief, he drowned himself in a river. Upon hearing of his death, the people were touched by his loyalty that they began to throw cooked rice in the river (in an attempt to feed him in the afterlife). However one day a fisherman had a dream that all the fish in the river were eating the rice so the people began to wrap the rice in bamboo leaves – and so the tradition of wrapping zongzi began.
A traditional filling with fatty pork, shiitake mushrooms, tiny shrimp, and shallots simmered for hours in a soy sauce, rice wine, and five-spice powder
When I think of zongzi, I think of my mother sitting on a tiny stool next to the kitchen. There is a stack of large bamboo leaves and a pot of sticky rice next to her and the entire house is filled with the smell of a fatty slow-cooked pork that’s been simmered in soy sauce, rice wine, and five-spice powder for hours. The white strings for wrapping zongzi are hanging from the door handle and the ritual begins. Her nimble hands are folding the bamboo leaves to form a pocket and stuffing the pocket with sticky rice, fatty pork, mushrooms, and shrimp. A bit more rice, a few more folds, a quick wrap of the string, and it’s done – zongzi.
I adore this picture of my mom
Oops! Still haven’t quite mastered the art of wrapping zongzi…
This year was the first year I recalled the story of Quyuan after many years of trying to erase the horrors of Saturday Chinese school from my mind. It was also the first year I made zongzi with my mother – a tradition I hope to continue and share with family many decades later.
I have yet to perfect this recipe so in the meantime, enjoy the pictures! Cruel, I know.