While we are feasting in abundance at Ramadhan buffets, let’s not forget that duan wu jie or Dragon Boat Festival is happening just a few days after Hari Raya — 7th June 2019 to be exact. It is that time of the year when pyramid-like parcels are enjoying with family and friends as a symbol of togetherness and unity.
But the Dragon Boat Festival actually has quite a sad history. The festival began as a ritual to commemorate the passing of a Chinese poet and minister, Qu Yuan. He killed himself after going through several bouts of false rumours among his peers, tarnishing his reputation along the way. Like many traditional Chinese folklores involving suicides, Qu Yuan threw himself into a river. Some fishermen tried to help save him but they were too late. So the locals decided to throw rice dumplings or zong zi into the river to stop fish from eating his body.
This fable has inspired a festival that is now celebrated throughout the world with various renditions of the glutinous rice dumplings. Depending on its Chinese origins, some rice dumplings are shaped like a pyramid or a pillow. The communityies in countries like Thailand and the Philippines, also made their own versions with an assortment of savoury and sweet ingredients.
In Malaysia, there are several types including pork belly with chestnut, mushroom, egg yolk and oyster, as well as the Nyonya-styled version with its blue-dyed glutinous rice and a filling of diced meat, candied wintermelon and mushroom, spiced with a mixture of white pepper, fennel, coriander and clove. We also have the sweet ones dyed in bright yellow and served with melted palm sugar; similar ones can be found in Thailand and Vietnam as well.
It is also important to point that during duan wu jie, food is usually associated with the number five (wu means five in Chinese). So the dumplings are usually made of five types of beans or five core ingredients.
Also, you don’t have to ride a dragon boat during duan wu jie — it is now a rather commercialised celebration like the mooncake festival. But many Chinese families are still keeping to the tradition of making zong zi from scratch — it is almost a dying art especially among the younger generation.
While most of us crave for the comforting flavours of homemade glutinous rice dumplings, there are very few places that can really capture the right balance of flavours that remind you of home. If you’re planning to head home for a reunion dinner, be sure to turn up bearing gifts — some gourmet zong zi would do the trick. Here’s where you can enjoy gourmet glutinous rice dumplings made by the best Chinese chefs in town for a taste of home.
(Featured image: Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur)