Recipe: zhongzi – China's Dragon Boat Festival favourite

Posted on 23 July 2013

I love my folks and visiting them always includes many foodie highlights. During a recent visit, my mama taught me how to make zhongzi (??), also known as rice pyramids, Chinese tamales, glutinous rice cakes and glutinous rice tamales.

Zhongzi is traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwu Festival ???) period, which falls on the 5th of the 5th on the lunar calendar. This festival commemorates the poet Qu Yuan ??. I remember this story well from my Chinese classes and storybooks and it’s one of those stories all Asians should know. On the 12th of June, it was the start to The Dragon Boat Festival, which starts on the 5th of the 5th of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Read up more about the story of Qu Yuan on the original post.

Zhongzi flavours and fillings vary from city to city and country to country. My family is from Tainan, which is south of Taiwan – the ingredients that my mama prepares are more on the savoury side and also, adapted for my family’s taste buds (I secretly add more pickled duck egg yolk and shiitake mushrooms to the ones I make). This dish is made with glutinous rice, which is also known as sticky rice, sweet rice, waxy rice, botan rice, mochi rice, biroin chal and pearl rice. Even though it’s called glutinous rice, like all rice types, it is completely gluten-free. It’s quite a complicated recipe, but if you’re looking for ready-made to buy, you can visit your local Asian Supermarkets and ask for it.


Zhongzi, Dragon Boat Festival, Asian Cuisine

Recipe for zhongzi

Makes 10


To prepare the zhongzi requires quite a bit of time, as all the ingredients for the filling needs to be cooked before being encased in bamboo leaves and rice. For a vegetarian version, add more mushrooms and veto the pork.

  • 5 cups glutinous rice (soaked in warm water)
  • 20 bamboo leaves (soaked in warm water)
  • 1 tbsp Shallots mix (purchasable in Chinese stores)
  • Oil to fry shallots and to add to rice
  • 10 shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp dried shrimp
  • 1 cup peanuts with husk (boiled, but intact)
  • 2 strips of cooked pork rashers or pork belly (slice into 10 pieces)
  • ½ cup soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 10 strings

Method (see visual step-by-step here)

1. Add a tbsp of oil to the rice and water, this will prevent your zhongzi from sticking to the bamboo leaves at the end.

2. Cut the mushrooms into halves and make sure to have already soaked them if they were dry.

3. Fry up the shallots and when it becomes golden brown with some oil, add the shrimp into the frying pan for another few minutes.

4. Separately, fry the pork belly till golden brown then add the soya sauce and sugar till caramelised.

5. This is the tricky part (see steps). Place two bamboo leaves, with the shiny side facing upwards, on top of each other, opposite ways. Fold it 4/5ths of the way to the right, with the right end on the inside and the left holding it on the outside.

6. Drop in a few peanuts, then press it down gently with a tbsp of rice.

7. Add the filling in – 2 mushroom halves, a yolk, shallots and shrimp, and pork

8. Fill it to just under the brim with rice, making sure there are no air spaces in between.

9. Fold the leaves over the top, pressing the rice down.

10. Steam for 1 hour and serve.

Looking for dessert? Try this delicious Asian peanut pancake recipe.

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