Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Just love different styles of zongzi during Dragon Boat Festival
By Nancy T. Lu
History, myth, legend and custom all come together during the Dragon Boat Festival. As the story goes, Qu Yuan, a fourth century B. C. statesman and poet, in his frustration while serving as minister in the state of Chu for the ruler did not heed his advice, quit his office and threw himself into the Milo River. Villagers, who saw him commit suicide, tried to keep hungry fish from feeding on his body by dropping rice in the water. And to commemorate Qu Yuan, people took to the practice of wrapping rice in bamboo leaves, using thread to tie up the traditionally tetrahedron packets.
The summer solstice festival on the fifth day of the fifth moon for generations used to see homemakers make this must-eat snack at home. The high demand for leaves (green for a more distinct flavor and spotted-brown for ordinary wrapping) used as wrappers even resulted in the import of needed supplies from the other side of the Taiwan Strait long before the thawing of ties.
In recent years, however, easy access to commercial zongzi of many flavors (you can even order zongzi from your neighborhood convenience store in Taipei) has made such kitchen activity (of long duration for the boiling takes time) truly rare. Every year, the five-star hotels in Taiwan compete to satisfy palates with a difference. Ingredients for the filling include often pork fat, dried shrimp, egg yolk, peanuts, dried mushrooms, taro, sweet bean paste, and sesame paste. But the zongzi made primarily of glutinous rice sometimes spirals into truly high-end consumption through the introduction of abalone, for example. A savory zongzi experience sometimes even requires the introduction of X.O. sauce.
Zongzi varieties include basically the meat kind, the vegetable option, the sweet delight and the savory recipe. The Hakka community in Taiwan likes the zongzi with pulverized rice. Another kind known as alkaline zongzi calls for frying the rice with alkaline and no other ingredient. Then the rice is wrapped in green bamboo leaves and boiled until it turns into translucent gelatin. This particular zongzi is relished with sugar or even honey.
In the past when many people made zongzi at home, friendly exchanges of tied tetrahedron bundles were common.. The rice snack abundance made it necessary to keep the surplus in the freezer for gradual consumption in the weeks after the Dragon Boat Festival.
The pictures highlight zongzi from (top to bottom) Landis Taipei, Ambassador Hotel and Grand Formosa Regent of Taipei.
Enjoy the zongzi. But don’t overeat.