Whilst the annual Dragon Boat race festivities landing on the 25 June this year add yet another tally to this year’s list of unfortunate cancelled events due to the pandemic (with all the races at Stanley, Sha Tin, Sai Kung, Aberdeen and Cheung Chau cancelled or postponed except for the time-honoured Tai O Dragon Boat Water Parade), we’re still very much looking forward to celebrating at home with the traditional delicacy of glutinous rice dumplings.

For the uninitiated, rice dumplings, also known as zongzi, are eaten on Dragon Boat Festival due to the legend of Qu Yuan, a beloved poet and minister during the Warring States period who was exiled after being slandered by jealous officials. Upon hearing that his state was conquered by outside forces, Qu drowned himself in the Miluo river — his followers paddled out on long boats, beating drums to repel evil spirits and threw rice dumplings into the water hoping that the fish would eat the dumplings and not his body.

What began as a humble yet hearty dish of mung bean, glutinous rice and fillings such as salted egg yolk, lean meat or sweet bean pastes has evolved with elaborate new styles befitting modern tastes — some with whole abalone, caviar and gold leaf. Hungry for a try? Check out these five types of dumplings you’ll want to savour come Dragon Boat Festival at the end of June.

The Baller: Reign

Best known for its wide range of extravagant sundries such as oscietra caviar and abalone, Reign has partnered with Hong Kong rice dumpling stalwart Old San Yang — renowned for its Shanghai-style dumplings — to create a truly indulgent special edition item for Dragon Boat Festival this year. The handmade dumplings are loaded with slow-cooked whole South African abalone, dried scallops, Chinese ham, and all made without preservatives or additives. The rice is also soaked in abalone juice to add an extra layer of decadence and aroma when steamed. The gift set also comes with 10g of prized osetra caviar straight from the Caspian sea — perfect to impress any gourmand who enjoys the finer things in life.

HK$888/350g, HK$1,188/400g from Reign Abalone, Shop 109, Prince’s Building, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2869 9788; Unit 18, B201/F, K11 Musea, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 3468 5188

The Modern: Sing Yin

The W Hong Kong’s Sing Yin Cantonese Dining proves that gifting during Dragon Boat Festival doesn’t need to be a fusty, old school tradition. For those who want to add some modern flair to their annual sticky rice dumpling ritual, Sing Yin’s packaging is a lot more sleek and stylish than most purveyors around this time of year. It also spices up the offering by pairing its sweet and savoury dumplings with the signature XO chilli sauce in a relatively pocket-friendly combo.

Shop from W Hong Kong’s eShop; W Hong Kong, 1 Austin Road West, West Kowloon, Hong Kong, +852 3717 2848

The Classic: Kowloon Shangri-La

For a Michelin-starred affair, check out the delectable range offered by rice dumpling stalwarts Shang Palace at Kowloon Shangri-La. Compared to its Island sibling, you’ll find a widened variety at Kowloon Shangri-La, ranging from an classic variety featuring roasted pork (HK$308) to the luxuriant Yoshihama abalone and Yunnan ham, priced at a cool HK$1,888. Whether you’re looking to impress important guests or to satisfy your own cravings, Shangri-La’s kitchens are always a solid choice around Dragon Boat Festival.

Shop from the Shangri-La Gift Shop online; Kowloon Shangri-La, 64 Mody Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 2721 2111

The Innovative: The Royal Garden

Home to award-winning Dong Lai Shun, you can rest assured the glutinous rice dumplings at The Royal Garden Hong Kong come as highly rated as their popular Beijing fare. If you’re tired of classic glutinous rice dumplings and want to try some modern twists, you’ll want to try new styles, including Kagoshima pork and dried Sakura shrimp, supreme black truffle and Parma ham, as well as Okinawa black sugar, sweet potato puree, which uses black glutinous rice for a vibrant visual contrast. Shop all of these from Royal Garden’s eShop, where you can also pick up a jar of its homemade XO sauce or Sichuan chilli sauce.

HK$248 from The Royal Garden eShop; The Royal Garden, 69 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Hong Kong, +852 2721 5215

The Rococo: Hotel Alexandra

Ahead of the hotel’s official opening, the gilded new Hong Kong property is putting its chefs to the test with their first curated product. The Aureate Zongzi Gift Box Set matches the eye-catching interiors of the hotel for sure, with an exquisite rice dumpling crafted with premium ingredients and emblazoned in gold leaf — they’re also shaped like golden ingots to fit the luxury theme. At a hefty 628g each and made to share between three, the filling goes beyond the typical trifecta of glutinous rice, mung bean and pork belly, and is enriched with decadent ingredients such as South African abalone, Hokkaido dried scallops, 24-month Ibérico Ham, sea cucumber, Sakura shrimp, golden chestnuts and red dates. The gift set is paired with fine artisanal tea from Tea WG 1837, presented in a custom box set.

HK$338 from Hotel Alexandra eShop; Hotel Alexandra, 32 City Garden Road, North Point, Hong Kong, +852 3893 2826

Evelyn Lok
Managing Editor
When not trying out the latest beauty and wellness trends, Evelyn is likely enjoying a perfectly balanced negroni or exploring some of Hong Kong's best new places to eat and drink. At Lifestyle Asia she covers everything from the biggest events in town to interviews with Hong Kong specialists, with topics spanning art, food and drink, health, tech, and travel.