Zongzi - The Food of Dragon Boat Festival

Written by Ruru Zhou Updated Mar. 1, 2024

Zongzi, also called Chinese rice dumplings, is the most important food eaten at the Dragon Boat Festival in China.  That is why the festival is also called the Zongzi Festival. During the festival, almost every Chinese family eats Zongzi. There are various kinds of zongzi sold at markets when the festival is coming. No zongzi, no Dragon Boat Festival.!

Zongzi at Dragon boat festival


What is Zongzi 

Zongzi - a delicacy at the Dragon boat festival

Zongzi is a traditional Chinese food made from glutinous rice and various fillings, wrapped in bamboo leaves (or reed leaves or other leaves).

The shape of Zongzi varies according to the region, with the most common shapes being pyramid or triangular.

The taste of Zongzi can be either salty or sweet. Northern China primarily favors sweet Zongzi, while Southern China enjoys both sweet and salty flavors

There is a diverse range of fillings for Zongzi. People in northern China prefer fillings like red dates, while in southern China, the fillings encompass a wide variety such as mung beans, pork belly, red bean paste, eight treasures, ham, shiitake mushrooms, and egg yolk.

The most famous Zongzi varieties in China include Guangdong-style salty meat Zongzi and Jiaxing Zongzi.

Why do the Chinese Eat Zongzi at the Dragon Boat Festival?

Eating Zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival is said to honor Quyuan

Eating Zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival is a tradition that dates back thousands of years. It is believed to honor Qu Yuan, a minister of the Chu state in ancient China over 2,300 years ago. 

Qu Yuan was a renowned poet who ardently advocated for his state to form an alliance with another small state, Qi, to resist the powerful Qin state. However, his suggestions were rejected, leading to his dismissal and subsequent exile to a remote area. When he learned that the Chu state had been conquered, Qu Yuan, filled with sorrow, drowned himself in the Miluo River (located in today's Hunan Province in central China) on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. 

The people of the Chu state searched the river for Qu Yuan's body but could not find it. Fearing that the river fish would consume his remains, they threw bamboo tubes filled with rice into the river as a tribute. This is the origin of the earliest zongzi in China.

This custom has been passed down through generations, and every year on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, people offer Zongzi to the river in commemoration of Qu Yuan. This date later became known as the Dragon Boat Festival. 

How to Eat Zongzi?

eating zongzi

Zongzi can be enjoyed both hot or at room temperature. However, eating it hot is often preferred, as it is more delicious and soft when warm.

To enjoy Zongzi warm, you can either steam or boil it until it becomes soft.

You can also serve Zongzi with sauces such as sugar or honey to enhance its flavor.

Do not eat too much Zongzi at once, as it is high in fat and starch, and consuming excessive amounts can lead to indigestion, burdening the digestive system.

The Great Varieties of Zongzi in China

There is a great variety of Zongzi in China in terms of shape, fillings, and taste. 

Beijing Zongzi

As a prominent variety of Zongzi from Northern China, Beijing Zongzi is relatively large and has an oblique square or triangular shape.

Most of the Zongzi available in the market today are made with glutinous rice. However, in rural areas, people still prefer eating Zongzi made from coarser yellow rice.

Beijing Zongzi is known for its chewy texture and subtle fragrance, offering a unique flavor. It is typically filled with red dates or bean paste, and in some cases, preserved fruit may also be used as filling.

Guangdong Zongzi

As a representative variety of Southern Chinese zongzi, Guangdong zongzi is relatively small compared to Beijing zongzi. It has a unique appearance—square on the front and a pointed tip protruding at the back, resembling a cone in shape.

Guangdong Zongzi features a great variety of fillings like glutinous rice, mung beans, salted egg yolk, shiitake mushrooms, peanuts, pork belly, and lotus seeds. The traditional method of steaming zongzi makes it rich in flavors and ingredients, delivering a satisfying taste experience.

Jiaxing Zongzi

Jiaxing Zongzi from Zhejiang province is famous throughout China. The Zongzi from Jiaxing is rectangular in shape and comes in various varieties such as fresh meat, bean paste, eight-treasure, and chicken Zongzi.

The fresh meat Jiaxing Zongzi is particularly delicious and worth trying. The meat, carefully selected from the hind leg of a pig, enhances the Zongzi's flavor. Once cooked, the fat from the meat permeates the rice, creating a delicious and rich taste without being greasy.

Zongzi has become a well-known brand in Jiaxing. Many people have come to recognize the name of Jiaxing, Zhejiang, solely because of its delectable Zongzi.

Alkaline Water Zongzi

Alkaline Water Zongzi is among the earliest and most traditional types of Zongzi, holding a special place in many Chinese people's memories. Nowadays, it is not easy to find Alkaline Water Zongzi in the market.

Despite its simple ingredients, Alkaline Water Zongzi has a soft, glutinous, fragrant, and delicious taste.

The name comes from the alkaline water used during preparation. Glutinous rice is soaked in alkaline water overnight, giving the rice a slightly yellow hue. After draining the water, the rice is used to make Zongzi.

In some regions, people like to add red dates and bean paste to Alkaline Water Zongzi. Its natural sweetness means that sugar is generally not added.

Taiwanese Zongzi

 Taiwanese Zongzi closely resembles the Cantonese style and features both sweet and savory fillings. The fillings may include ingredients such as chestnuts, mung beans, pork belly, salted egg yolks, and dried shrimp.

How to Make Zongzi at Home- An Easy Recipe

Making Zongzi

Ingredients: glutinous rice, bamboo leaves, pork belly, white sugar, salt, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce


1. Prepare 290g of glutinous rice and soak it in water for more than 5 hours. Soak the bamboo leaves in water for a while, then boil them in hot water. 

2. Prepare 130g of pork; cut into small pieces and place in a bowl. Add 10g each of sugar and salt, a spoonful of dark and light soy sauce, and some cooking wine. Mix well, cover with plastic wrap, and marinate for about 2 hours.

3. Rinse soaked glutinous rice, drain water, and add sugar, salt, and dark and light soy sauce; mix well.

4. Clean soaked bamboo leaves. Layer two leaves and fold them into a funnel. Add rice, meat, and another rice layer. Press and secure with remaining leaves. Trim excess, tie securely, and Zongzi is ready. 

5. After the Zongzi is prepared, place them in a pot of cold water. Turn up the heat to bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 2 hours.

In addition to being a traditional food during the Dragon Boat Festival, Chinese people also enjoy Zongzi as a breakfast or a snack. It has become a very popular snack in China and you can find it at any local markets or food street.

The Dragon Boat Festival is coming, so why not try a Zongzi and experience the traditional celebration? 

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