Zong Zi is the traditional Chinese rice dumpling that people of China have enjoyed for thousands of years. It is served wrapped in bamboo leaves, in honor of the ancient Chinese poet, Qu Yuan (340-278 BC.) Qu Yuan was a political activist in his time, and worried about the future of government in his country. He had such a strong and widespread following of sympathizers that his fame and influence caused the king to become outraged in jealousy. Banished to the wilderness, Qu Yuan continued to grow more concerned about the policies made by the leadership of China. Finally, the capital city was overrun by enemies, and the poet took his own life by casting himself into the Miluo River, bringing great sadness to the people of China when they learned of his fate. They went out to the river to search for his body, all of them tossing out glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in reed leaves or bamboo leaves; this was to distract the large fishes in the river, and to ensure that they did not attack Qu Yuan’s body.
Zong Zi dumplings to this day are prepared and enjoyed as a memorial to the greatest ancient poet of China. The festival of Duan Wu (or, the Dragon Boat Festival) is held, and people share in the nationwide tradition of eating the Zong Zi. Visitors from foreign nations who are fortunate enough to be in China during this celebration are rightly impressed with the delicacy of the dish. On the dumpling’s surface, the faint imprint of the leaf in which it was wrapped leaves a fragile scent, and the people are reminded of the poet they lost to the river.
Many adult Chinese people today remember eating this snack on May 5, traditionally the day associated with the death of Qu Yuan. It was a special event only enjoyed on that day each year. In modern times, though, the Zong Zi is not made exclusively for the Duan Wu Festival. People now enjoy it throughout the year. Each region has developed its own special way of preparing the dumplings, giving each area its own distinctive flavor of Zong Zi. In remembrance of Duan Wu, many cooking channels feature specials on cooking Zong-Zi. If you are interested in these specials check your TV Guide early so you’re ready to DVR some of the specials. Whether you have cannon satellite tv or cable, you should be able to find a cooking channel with a great special!
Perhaps if you are in the region yourself this Spring around the time of the Dragon Boat Festival, you too will be able to enjoy the wonderful tradition of having Zong Zi dumplings, just as they were meant to be enjoyed, in China. The patriotic poet would surely approve.