Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dragon Boat Festival: Recipe for Zongzi - steamed rice dumplings

In celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival, we made, and enjoyed, traditional Zongzi, a sticky rice dumpling made especially for this festival.

You can find all of our Dragon Boat Festival posts here.

Preparing and eating Zongzi, also known as Bak Chang, is an essential part of the festival. They commemorate Qu Yuan, and the legend that rice, wrapped in bamboo, was thrown in the river in which he drowned, in order for feed his spirit. 

Festival Zongzi
Photo Credit: Omefrans
This recipe is time consuming, being prepared is key (I know, because I wasn't altogether prepared, and we did not end up eating any until 8:00pm on a school night, which is almost Elle's bed time). The most important part to be prepared with is soaking. Ideally overnight, though a few hours of soaking was enough for me - I started the rice soaking in the morning (because I forgot to last night), and the rest as late as 3:30 (because I needed to send hubby to the store to pick the stuff up!) So if you want to enjoy the process, take a few minutes the night before for preparations. 

The recipe we used was adapted from Bread et Butter, and makes enough for 20 dumplings. I adapted it to make enough for eight dumplings, because, what would I do with all of those dumplings if no one liked them?


Bamboo leaves and salted duck eggs
Is there a reason the eggs are different colors??

From Left to Right:
Dried chestnuts, dried shrimp, dried mushrooms

To be soaked overnight:
  • 20 - 24 Dried bamboo leaves
  • 8 dried Chinese chestnuts
  • 2 cups glutinous rice
You will also need:
  • 1/4 cup dried shrimp
  • 4 salted duck eggs
  • 6 dried black Chinese mushroom
For sauce:
  • 1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dark soya sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp light soya sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
1. Soak your rice, leaves and chestnuts over night. Or, as stated above, the rice for at least 6 hours, and the bamboo leaves and chestnuts, for at least one hour, with boiling water poured over them and left to soak. 

2. Cook your duck eggs to hard boil them. Once cooked and cooled, remove the shell, and separate yolk from white, keeping the yolk for this recipe. Cut yolks in half.
It was really strange peeling the egg shells, we butchered the whites. I'm not sure if it's because of the preservation process, but it took much longer than with regular hard boiled eggs. 

3. Soak mushrooms and shrimp in boiling hot water for approximately 20 minutes. 

Everything is in a bowl of water
Make sure the bamboo leaves are completely submerged

4. Meanwhile, whisk together the sauce ingredients. 

5. Drain all ingredients, chop mushrooms in half or quarters

6. Heat 1 tbsp canola oil in frying pan and fry the shrimp for 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan.

7. Using same pan, fry the mushrooms until they brown. Remove from pan, and do the same for chestnuts.

8. Add rice to the pan and stir for one minute. Add the sauce, and stir together. Transfer to a bowl.

Time to assemble:
  • Cut long lengths of twine to have them ready when you need them.
  • Start heating up water in a large pot, that way it will be boiling by the time your are done assembling. 
  • Form the leaves into a cone. You can see it done in the video found here. Take two bamboo leaves, overlap them, and bring both sides inward into a cone facing yourself.

  • Fill 1/3 with rice. Add toppings: one half egg yolk, a couple of pieces of mushrooms, one chestnut, and a few shrimp

  • Close the packet: fold the top over, overlapping the corners. You want to make sure there are no holes for the water to seep into. Just keep folding until it's all folded over, and tie around with string. Just twist and tie string all around to keep leaves into place. I started by tying a knotted loop around the wide part, and took the rest of the length of twine to wrap around. It helps to have your daughters tie the knot while you hold down the leaves.

  • Place dumplings into the pot of boiling water, making sure they are completely covered with water. Cover your pot, and cook on medium for 2 hours. 

  • Remove from water, unwrap and serve.

I did most of the bamboo leaf work, and Elle filled in the cones (except for Pea's, she did her own :) - but it really wasn't that complicated. If the two leaves aren't covering the top well enough, add another leaf - that's why more than 16 were soaked.

I thought the dumplings were quite good. And filling! Both the girls finished their dumplings, but one was more than enough. Elle did not care for the egg yolk, and Pea could not stand the chestnuts, so they picked those out. 

All in all, it was worth the work, and felt like a genuine Chinese experience, as much for the preparing as the eating, and I'm glad Elle participated throughout and that we shared that together. 

All our Dragon Boat Festival posts can be found here, where you can learn about Duanwu, find a review of a couple of books worth reading, a roundup of dragon boat crafts, learn about Qu Yuan, and a tutorial for making your own protective fragrant sachets

You can find more multicultural activities at 
the Culture Swap and Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop


  1. You are such a cool mum! I really do feel everyone ought to be introduced to your blog, it is a complete treasure trove of fun ideas to try out! I'm finishing off Ancient China next week but will be continuing to have my children read each of your posts because they are so educational!
    Thanks for all the hard work you put in, it really is worth it.

    1. Wow, Thanks Claire! The feeling is mutual.

  2. Looks delish! Did you have a hard time finding the bamboo leaves?? Thank you for linking up that the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #5!

    1. They were pretty good, though I don't think we'll be making them again. It's amazing what you can find at an asian grocery store - though most of it is dried it can be reconstituted.

  3. Wow, this looks like a really labor-intensive process but really fun! Can't wait til my boys are old enough to try all of your wonderful projects. Thanks for sharing at the Culture Swapper!

    1. It was a great experience, worth the time involved :) Thanks for stopping by!


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