The Dragon Boat Festival, an ancient Chinese tradition marked each year to commemorate the poet and politician Qu Yuan, will be celebrated by Sydney’s Chinese community in 2021 on Monday, June 14. That means zongzi – sticky rice parcels wrapped in bamboo leaves typically served to mark the occasion – will be out in full force.
The Dragon Boat Festival can be traced back to the Zhou Dynasty, and commemorates Yuan’s death in 278BC. Yuan – who had been banished from the royal house of his home state of Chu because of his opposition to its alliance with the powerful Qin state – learnt that Chu’s capital city had fallen to the Qin. Upon hearing this news, he drowned in a river on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. The locals took their boats to the river to try and save him, but were too late. They ended up throwing lumps of rice into the river so the fish would eat the grains instead of Yuan’s body – this is considered the origin of zongzi. Now, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month every year (the Georgian calendar date changes depending on the lunar calendar).
Jennifer Du, the owner of restaurant group Taste of Shanghai, is selling a range of zongzi to the public next week to mark the occasion. The holiday always brings a smile to Du’s face.
“The Dragon Boat Festival brings up very fond memories for me growing as a child in Shanghai,” Du tells Broadsheet. “I remember my grandma would pull a stool and sit in the lanes with all the other families and make the zongzi. It was a great time for our community to come together, catch up, make the zongzi and share it with each other.”
That sense of happiness and family is what Du wants to foster when people order her zongzi.
Du insists they should be enjoyed at home with loved ones. “We believe people should take it away to bring home to their family and friends,” she says. “These rice dumplings are actually quite complicated to make so we want to make things easier this year by making it for people. It’s perfect for sharing at home with your family and a great excuse to have quality time together. In Chinese culture, people even give zongzi to each other as gifts, so the zongzi can be symbolic for many things once they take it home.”
Taste of Shanghai is offering three varieties of zongzi: filled with red bean paste, pork, or pork and salted egg yolk.
“My personal favourite is the zongzi with the pork filling, because Shanghainese people love this type the most,” Du says. “People from northern China prefer the red bean paste variant, whereas people from Guangzhou prefer it with the salted egg yolk filling. So, I wanted to make all three types available for the public to eat and try.”
Taste of Shanghai’s zongzi are available at its World Square, Eastwood and Burwood restaurants, until June 20.