I hardly remember the exact date for any Chinese festivals except Chinese New Year. When I was little, my mom was usually the one who let me know if the next day would be a big day when we had a feast. I was quite ignorant about what we were celebrating, or why we were celebrating it. It is still like that even now. But, I guess what matters is that it is a tradition, and more importantly it is an excellent opportunity for the family to get together to have a feast and to bond. Even for those who are not physically with their family (like me), it makes a good reason to call home to reminisce about the past events and to ask each other how we are celebrating it, if at all.
There is usually certain food associated with each festival. For instance, the new year’s rice cake (niangao, 年糕) during CNY is a must. Then, during mooncake’s festival, there would be mooncakes. How about duanwu festival (端午節)? Also known as dragon boat festival, eating glutinous rice dumpling or zongzi (粽子) during the festival is a common sight. This is my favorite festival because I love zongzi above other festival staple food. Actually zongzi is not only sold during the festival, but all year long. It is just some households would go an extra mile to make their own zongzi around the festival, which make it more special. We all know nothing tastes better than our mom’s or grandma’s handmade food.
When I grew up though, my mom never ever made her own zongzi. I practically had zero knowledge on how to make it, and particularly how to wrap it. We were spoiled by my aunt who makes traditional kue (cakes) for a living. My mom usually ordered a special one for me: zongzi with lots of dried shrimp and no pork. In my hometown, the fillings are usually pork slices, mushroom, peanuts, dried shrimp, and dried radish. I know in some regions and countries, salted egg yolks are also common, but I have never had them in the zongzi I ate.
Years after years living abroad, making my own zongzi never crossed my mind either. Reasons: hard to find the ingredients, hard to prepare, hard to wrap, and if I were to fail, who were going to help me eating them? I either opted for a random zhongzi I found in an Asian supermarket (which I regretted it later), or patiently waited for a good not-so-foreign Samaritan (a friend or people from church) to give me some.
This year… This year I made a difference (if I can put a dramatic sound effect when you are reading this, I will!). I know exactly where I can get the ingredients. I kind of know how to make it after watching a friend doing it last year and getting some instructions from my mom. And then, a flatmate is familiar on how to wrap it. Plus, there are many people who are willing to take risks for me in case of failure. The light is green, so I give it a go.
The method I use is non-conventional because I cook everything before wrapping it to skip boiling the dumplings, which take hours. By doing this, I also eliminate the risk of rice leaking out from loose wrapping. The drawback is my dumplings’ shapes are not as nice because cooked rice becomes soft.
This is what I did:
* Boil the peanuts until they become soft (at least 3 hours)
* Soak and rinse dried radish to remove some saltiness
* Soak dried mushroom
* Chop dried shrimp and dried radish into small pieces
* Slice a lot of garlic and some shallots
* Stir-fry the dried shrimp and dried radish together under low heat together with some garlic and shallot. Seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little bit of dark soy sauce for the color.
* Cook pork mince and mushroom with some garlic. Seasoned with oyster sauce, salt, pepper, bit of sugar, soy sauce, and dash of sesame oil.
* Cook the sticky rice by first frying the garlic. Then put the rice into it and fry for 1 minute or so. Add water (the ratio of water: rice should be less than one) and some salt for seasoning. Cook until the water is absorbed. Transfer the rice into a steamer and steam until cooked.
* Prepare the bamboo leaves and the strings to tie the dumplings.
* Wrap and can be served immediately, or steam it and serve hot.
Here are the verdicts which mostly are my personal opinions:
*pretty good for a novice
*so much better than a random dumpling I bought from the supermarket last year.
* the rice is a bit too soft
* people did not have enough share.
Will I ever make it again? Definitely a yes!