Today, 12 June 2013, is the Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan. It is a time when people flock to the riverside to watch dragon boat races, or maybe even partake in a company sponsored event. It is also an excuse to eat zongzi (粽子), a sticky rice dumpling and wrapped in a bamboo leaf.
The year before last, I was privileged to make zongzi with a friend who shared her mother’s secret recipe. These were big, fat package shaped zongzi made in the Hong Kong style and boiled rather than steamed. In Taiwan, I have learnt, there is a difference between northern and southern zongzi, depending on how the rice is prepared. Both are usually steamed, and wrapped in special pyramid shapes, and contain all sorts of special (and rich) ingredients such as pork belly, peanuts, salted duck yolk and mushrooms. But northern Taiwanese zongzi contain a type of already cooked sticky rice, while southern Taiwanese zongzi are filled with raw rice that then cooks as the dumpling steams. Some indigenous tribes make a similar version with millet, which while rarer, has a unique taste that is similar to cous cous but hard to replicate.
Or if you don’t like grains, you can indulge with sweet ice-cream zongzi.
I love zongzi, but I have always been warned that they are not good for you. Especially the rice ones as the sticky rice is hard to digest (and that is without all the oil that they often contain). But the people at the Bureau of Health Promotion are no fun at all, putting out a press release to remind people how unhealthy this traditional snack is. Apparently, one zongzi contains about 600 calories, and they warn you would need to climb Taipei 101 (the second highest building the world) twice to burn that amount of calories. If you ate two rice dumplings plus your normal meal every day for a week (quite possible in the lead up and aftermath to the Dragon Boat Festival), you could gain an extra kilogram. Ouch. Lucky I only eat them occasionally.
Do you enjoy zongzi at the Dragon Boat Festival? Or do you like them all year round? And how do you like your zongzi?