Zhong Zi are very soft rice cakes or dumplings that almost melt in your mouth.
They come in different sizes, the shape can be rectangular or triangular. The Hakka Chinese, for instance, tend to make rectangular ones.
The rice that forms the outside layer of the dumpling seasoned with soy sauce and other things.
The filling in Canton is often chestnut (fresh or dried), salted yolks from duck eggs, and salted fatty side pork. Other areas add peanuts, others add mung beans, or shitake mushroom.
There are also sweet ones, filled with date or red bean paste. Sometimes the sweet ones have no filling, but are instead served with a sweet sauce to dip them in.
There is no set rule on the filling, just local customs, but people vary according to family preference.
The dumpling is wrapped in lotus or bamboo heaves, to help flavour the rice, then tied up with string.
The bundles are then steamed or simmered in water.
Literature & Lore
Legend holds that a Chinese poet and civil servant named Qu Yuan committed suicide by throwing himself in the Mi Lo river sometime in the 400s BC. There are several variations as to why he did it, but all say that because the local villagers were unable to find his body, they threw rice dumplings into the river hoping that the fish would feed on them instead of munching on Qu Yuan’s body. Others say the person was a 14 year old girl named Cao Er, sometime between 0 and 200 AD, others say a man named “Wu Zi Xu.”
Zhong Zi are associated with Dragon Boat Race (aka “Duan Wu Jie”) festival. Sometimes it’s also called the “Dumpling Festival.”
Zhong Zi are made for the festival (but they are eaten, not thrown to the fish.) The festival often coincides with the summer solstice. Because of their association with the first calendar day of summer, Zhong Zi have also been associated with the time to pack away winter clothes; in some people’s minds, it’s even bad luck to pack away winter clothes without first having had a Zhong Zi dumpling. They are also made throughout the year.
Sometimes referred to as “Rice Tamales” in English.
Also called “bak chang” in Cantonese.