Postcards from China: Happy Dragon Boat Festival + Zongzi


Welcome to Postcards from China, a series of delicious snapshots from my summer in China and Taiwan.

Location: Gulangyu, Xiamen
Item: Zong zi, or glutinous rice dumplings

June 22 is the beginning of the Dragon Boat Festival, which explains the influx of zongzis, or glutinous rice dumplings, we’ve been eating at home. Wrapped in bamboo leaves in a triangular shape, zongzi is a traditionally steamed Chinese dish made with glutinous rice and stuffed with various fillings (typically mushrooms, pork, nuts, and dried shrimp).

Although zongzis can be consumed year-round, they’re often made especially for the Dragon Boat Festival, which starts from June 22 to 24 in China. A brief history lesson: The festival commemorates the life and death of ancient poet Qu Yuan, who was a government official in the state of Chu. He was exiled for his reforms and eventually committed suicide by throwing himself into a river. The people of Chu rushed out in their fishing boats, beating drums and throwing food like zongzi in the river to keep the fish and evil spirits from his body.

Since then, dragon boat racing and eating zongzi have become the central customs of the festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

Though zongzis are typically made at home or by family members in China, you can find them for $4 in New York at the NYC Cravings Truck. Or if you’re feeling cheap, see if you can still spot the elderly lady in Chinatown selling zongzis. Chowhounders report that she was last spotted on Grand and Chrystie.