Street Food: Homemade Joong in Chinatown


During daylight hours, at the northeast corner of Mott Street and Hester Street, you’re likely to see a spry elderly woman and her middle-aged friend seated in chairs and chatting as though they were in their living rooms, while presiding over a small stack of boxes. Inside, are piles of homemade Cantonese-style joong (called “zongzi” in Manadrin), bamboo-leaf-wrapped parcels containing sticky rice and flavorful extras like pork belly, mung bean, and peanut. Joongs are sometimes referred to as Chinese tamales, because the idea is much the same–substituting bamboo leaves for corn husks, and sticky rice for masa.

The joongs are $1.50 each, incredibly cheap for such hefty packets. The older woman does not speak much English, but a Chowhound thread suggested that the pork-peanut joongs are the best. A “pork and peanut?” query was met with a nod, a friendly stream of words, and a bag containing two joongs.

Joongs are most traditionally eaten as part of the Spring Dragon Boat Festival, but they’re available all year long, and freeze well after being cooked. They’re perfect cold weather food–steamy, dense, and glossy with melted pork fat.

Simmer or steam the wrapped joong for about an hour and a half.

It’s like opening up a present: The tetrahedral shape is beautiful, and the rice is glossy, dense, and chewy. Hidden inside are strips of pork belly, a bright-yellow salted duck yolk, and peanuts that have cooked into a starchy, creamy state.