Taiwanese cuisine is a fascinating blend of flavors, drawing inspiration from various culinary traditions and it’s history. One such culinary gem that has stood the test of time is Zongzi.
These pyramid-shaped rice dumplings, wrapped in bamboo leaves, are a beloved part of Taiwanese culture and are often enjoyed during the Dragon Boat Festival, a significant annual event on May 5th of the Lunar Calendar. Zongzi represents more than just a dish; it encapsulates the essence of tradition, craftsmanship, and the joy of shared meals.
The key ingredients in Zongzi are sticky rice, bamboo leaves and flavorful fillings. The rice is soaked, and the bamboo leaves are softened in warm water to make them pliable. The filling can vary widely depending on the region, but often includes a combination of ingredients such as braised pork, shiitake mushrooms, peanuts, chestnuts, and sometimes a salted duck egg yolk for added richness.
The preparation of Zongzi is a labor-intensive process that requires skill and patience. Each bamboo leaf is carefully folded, creating a pyramid-shaped pouch. The rice and filling are then layered inside, then the entire package is tightly wrapped and then secured with twine . The Zongzi are typically steamed or boiled for several hours until the rice is cooked to perfection, absorbing the flavors of the filling and bamboo leaves.
Zongzi is not just a dish; it holds significant cultural and symbolic value. Eating Zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival is believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. Families often come together to make Zongzi, creating a sense of unity and tradition.
In contemporary Taiwan, Zongzi is not limited to the Dragon Boat Festival; it is enjoyed year-round as a delicious snack or meal. Many households continue to uphold the tradition of making Zongzi at home, passing down recipes through generations. Additionally, street vendors and restaurants often offer their own interpretations of this classic dish, appealing to both locals and tourists eager to savor the authentic flavors of Taiwan.
Zongzi stands as a testament to the enduring connection between food, culture, and tradition. Beyond its delectable taste, the dish reflects the spirit of Taiwan—a place where history, folklore, and innovation seamlessly intertwine. So, the next time you unwrap a Zongzi, take a moment to appreciate the craftsmanship and centuries-old traditions encapsulated within this humble yet extraordinary Taiwanese rice triangle.
台式肉粽 Taiwanese Style ZongZi
|cup skin-on dried peanuts
|Salt for soaking peanuts
|pack of large dried bamboo leaves (you’ll need about 1-2 bundles out of the package)
|dried shiitake mushroom
|salted duck egg yolk (鹹蛋黃)
|Cooking rice wine (米酒)
|cup frozen fresh chestnut
|cups long grain sticky rice
|cup lard, divided
|Asian small shallots (about 2 cups sliced)
|cup medium dried shrimp(蝦米)
|pounds pork belly, cut into 1-inch x 2-inch pieces
|cup soy sauce
|teaspoon five spice powder
|teaspoon ground white pepper
|Taiwanese Style ZongZi
|(2½-foot) thin cotton twines, folded in half and tied with a knot on top to make 20 strands of twine
For the Prep
Soak peanuts in salt brine (ratio of 1 part salt to 4 parts water) overnight.
Soak dried bamboo leaves overnight. Cut off the top and the bottom, about 1 inch on both ends so it’s easier to fold later.
Soak dried shiitake mushrooms in warm water until soft (30 minutes), remove stems and cut in half or quarter if the mushrooms are big.
Cut salted egg yolk in half, spray with rice wine (michu) and bake at 350°F for 5 minutes.
Clean and steam frozen chestnuts for 10 minutes.
Wash and drain rice, set aside.
For the Filling
Add mushroom pieces to a dry wok over medium-high heat. Stir fry until fragrant, about 1 minute, remove from wok. Set aside.
Peel and slice shallots into thin pieces.
Add lard to wok over medium heat. Add shallots. Slowly cook and fry the shallots until crispy and golden. Remove the crispy shallots from the wok with slotted spoon. Let cool.
To same wok over low heat, add dried shrimp. Slowly fry on low until they’re golden and fragrant, remove from the wok. Set aside.
Add pork belly to the wok, stir fry on medium until the color has turned, the meat doesn’t have to be cooked.
Add water, soy sauce, sugar, five spice powder, white pepper and salt. Braise 20 minutes on medium-low heat, adding water during the process to make sure pork is covered.
Add the shiitake mushroom to pork. Braise another 10 minutes. Remove pork and shiitake mushroom from broth. Set aside.
Drain rice. Stir into broth. Turn the heat to medium, stir fry the rice in the broth until all the liquid has been absorbed. Add shrimp and fried shallots. Mix well. Remove from the wok and set aside, let cool.
For the Taiwanese Style ZongZi
Fold soaked and softened bamboo leaves, fill it with one small spoon of rice, a small scoop of peanuts, one of each condiment, and top it with rice. It should only be 80% full as the rice will expand when boiled.
Close bamboo leaves and tie with twine. Repeat until all the ingredients are used.
Bring a large pot of water to boil, place the wrapped ZongZi rice dumplings in the boiling water with lid on, making sure all the rice dumplings are submerged in water. Boil the rice dumplings 90 minutes and up to 3 hours depending on how you prefer your rice- harder or softer and stickier.
Remove rice dumplings and enjoy!