From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sticky Rice Celebration!!

Happy Duan Wu Jie! If you can't make/buy Zong Zi, make sure to eat some sticky rice today!

Today is the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. What does that mean to you? Well, probably nothing (unless you happen to be using a lunar calendar). But if you're keeping track, you'll know that it is Duan Wu Jie, also called the Dragon Boat Festival or the Dumpling Festival.

Thus, today we celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival!!  This festival remains one of the highlights of the Chinese social calendar, with dragon boat racing a major draw for locals and tourists alike. Chinese will habitually daub themselves in perfume from a pouch tied around their waist in a bid to ward off evil spirits - again harking back to the Qu Yuan legend.

Duan Wu Jie is a widely celebrated festival amongst the Chinese, to pay respect to the patriotic poet, Qu Yuan (pronounced as Chue Yuan). The legend involves a really long and complicated throne-fighting war and political history. But to make a long story short: Qu Yuan was an important minister back in Chu Kingdom in ancient China. He had been known for his loyalty for the emperor of Chu, and loved his country greatly. However, His Majesty had not taken Qu Yuan's advice seriously, and he eventually got himself trapped and captured in a foreign land by his enemies, which then lead to his own death.

Sad and angry at the corrupted, dying Kingdom, Qu Yuan tied himself to a big rock and threw himself into the River of Puo Luo. The people then made rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and threw them into the river. They believed this would stop the fish from eating Qu Yuan's body. Some would even row down stream in a boat, beating drums and shouting out loud in the hope to scare the fish away (it was believed that it is how the Dragon Boat event is related to the festival.

Since then, the 5th day of the 5th month in the Chinese calendar has been set as Duan Wu Festival to remember the incident. Although there were versions of legends and stories that indicate Duan Wu has existed way before Qu Yuan's death, the tradition still carries on.

The rice dumplings (ZongZi) are glutinous rice (or sticky rice in some countries like Thailand and Hong Kong) wrapped in bamboo leaves, or other large leaves (lotus is one of the more commonly used leaves). You can find all sorts of different fillings in the rice: pork, roast pork, chestnut, egg, salted egg, mushroom, red bean, or just simply without filling. They could be just white rice dumpling (not pre-fried), or brown (pre-fried with soya sauce).

Nowadays, you can buy Zongzi almost everyday of the year, in restaurants or hawker stores in most oriental countries such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore, and other Asian countries where large amount of Chinese reside.

My version of ZongZi?  One that hopefully many people will appreciate.

Sticky Rice Surprise


2 cups glutinous rice

1 pound boneless chicken thigh, cut into half inch cubes

2 shiitake mushrooms, soaked, stem removed and diced same size as the chicken

2 Tablespoons rice wine

3 Tablespoons dark soy sauce

2 Tablespoons fresh ginger

2 Tablespoons lotus flour

6 lotus leaves, soaked in tepid water for half an hour


1. Cook the glutinous rice in three cups water for half an hour, then drain and set rice aside until cool enough to handle.

2. Mix chicken, mushrooms, rice wine, soy sauce, ginger, set aside for half an hour.

3. Using one lotus leaf, put one half cup of rice in the center, flatten it and add one quarter of the chicken and liquid in the center of it, then covering it with another half cup of rice; be sure chicken is sealed inside the rice.

4. Turn the sides of the leaf in over the rice, and then roll the leaf the long way until all the lotus leaf is enclosing and wrapped around the rice. Set package down on the side where the seam is placing it on the bottom of a steamer basket. Cover the steamer and steam over boiling water for one hour. Serve.

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