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What Is a Zongzi?

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  • Written By: Eugene P.
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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Zongzi is a type of Chinese rice dumpling that is cooked inside a banana leaf wrapper. There is no single correct recipe for zongzi, except that it consists of glutinous rice that is wrapped in bamboo leaves or some other variety of large leaf. The glutinous rice creates a substantial dumpling that can range in size from very small to considerably large. Most often, the rice is stuffed with ingredients including pork, chicken, mung beans, egg yolks, chestnuts, seafood, or nearly anything that can be contained in the rice. The packets are either cooked in boiling water — sometimes for hours — until everything is done, or they can be steamed.

Glutinous rice, also called sticky or sweet rice, is the primary ingredient in zongzi. When cooked, the rice will exude a significant amount of gluten, forming it into a heavy, dough-like mass. The rice needs to be soaked overnight before it is used to prevent it from quickly turning into a solid, inedible lump when it cools after cooking. Although it is soaked, the rice is not usually cooked before being stuffed into the bamboo leaves.

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The filling placed inside the rice can be any combination of different ingredients or nothing at all. A zongzi that has no filling is sometimes eaten as a sweet treat with toppings such as sugar, syrup or honey. Inside the rice can be a combination of meats such as pork, chicken, sausages or fish. This is usually accompanied by vegetables such as beans, mushrooms, onions or sprouts. Sometimes, accenting items such as soy sauce, egg yolks or powdered dry shrimp are added for extra flavor.

The most difficult part of making zongzi is wrapping the rice and other filling in the bamboo leaves, because it requires both physical coordination and having all ingredients prepared. One method is to take two of the bamboo leaves that have been soaked or heated to make them pliable and put them together like a fan. The leaves are then formed into a cone, and some uncooked rice is put into the cone. Next, the filling is spooned over top of the rice, but not enough to fill the rest of the cone. Finally, more rice is placed on top of the filling, and the leaves are folded over to seal everything inside before being tied shut with twine.

Zongzi are either boiled or steamed until everything is cooked, which can take several hours, depending on the ingredients. The dumplings are usually served inside their bamboo leaf wrappers and opened at the table by the person eating them. They can be served with chili sauce, soy sauce or sesame oil.

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