Have you tried Sticky Rice Dumpling?

Sticky rice dumplings are a traditional Chinese food made with glutinous sticky rice, filled with a sweet or savoury filling, wrapped in bamboo leaves.  It is also known as Zhong Zi.  This Chinese delicacy has been enjoyed for centuries, particularly during the Dragon Boat Festival (around the time of summer solstice).  These savory sticky rice dumplings are wrapped in bamboo leaves and filled with a variety of ingredients, creating a flavorful and satisfying treat.  I recently spent a weekend with my family making these delicious snacks and also learning about the history behind this delicacy.

Cultural Significance of the sticky rice dumpling:

The sticky rice dumpling holds a special place in Chinese culture and is closely associated with the Dragon Boat Festival which commemorates the ancient poet Qu Yuan.  Legend has it that Qu Yuan, a revered poet and statesman of ancient China, drowned himself in a river as a form of protest against political corruption.  Locals threw sticky rice dumplings into the river to prevent fish from devouring his body and to honor his memory.

While in China this is a well celebrated festival, I would have missed it this year if it wasn’t for my parents reminding me.  Most Chinese festivals are based around the lunar calendar, and this festival is no different.  Usually the dragon boat festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.  At this time in China, many dragon boat races take place and women and men wear traditional colourful silk clothing, and, of course, enjoy a meal of sticky rice dumplings.  The triangular shape of the dumplings symbolizes the boats used in the dragon boat races and serves as a reminder of Qu Yuan’s sacrifice.  Having immigrated from China when I was 7, I have some long distant memories of eating the sticky rice dumplings and attempting to “help” prepare the delicacy at the kitchen table.

Ingredients and Fillings:

The main component of the Sticky Rice dumpling is glutinous or sticky rice, which gives the dumplings their distinctive chewy texture.  The rice is soaked, then mixed with various ingredients to create delicious fillings.  Common ingredients include:

  • Meat: Traditional fillings often feature marinated pork belly, Chinese sausage (lap cheong), or shredded chicken.
  • Salted Egg Yolk: A salted duck egg yolk is sometimes placed in the center of the filling, adding a rich and savory element to the dumpling.
  • Beans: Mung beans or red beans can be added to provide a contrasting texture and additional flavor.
  • Nuts: Peanuts or chestnuts are often incorporated for a delightful crunch and nutty taste.
  • Dried Shrimp or Mushroom: These ingredients contribute a savory umami flavor and add depth to the fillings.

Making these bamboo dumplings requires a bit of patience and skill, as the dumplings need to be carefully wrapped to ensure they hold their shape during cooking, and the bamboo leaves are dried and hard, so need to be soaked in warm water overnight before they can be used.

Still, the work is worth it for these festival treats.

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