Bamboo Wrapped Rice

When I visited my mom last week, she gave me a bag of zongzi. Zongzi are fist sized bamboo wrapped rice dumplings, the contents of which are sticky rice, Chinese sausages, egg yolk, peanuts and pork. Different families make zongzi differently, according to their tastes. This is a yearly delicacy in Chinatown, and those who haven’t been taught to make them can get them at stores and restaurants. Some restaurants actually serve them year round, but they generally appear around this time of year.

This tradition first started a long, long time ago - around 300 BC. There was a great poet, named Qu Yuan, who served as a minister during the warring states period of ancient China. Due to a disagreement, he was slandered and Emperor Huai banished him to north of the Han River. While he was reinstated later, trouble came again in the form of Emperor QingXiang banishing him again, this time to the south of the Yangtze River.

Qu Yuan’s downfall in political circles led to great anxiety and depression. He grew gaunt, and fell to ill health. He would take long walks to a well, contemplating. This well became known as the Reflection Well. After his country’s capital, Ying, was captured in 278 BC, he wrote a long poem named “Lamentation for Ying.” Eventually, he committed suicide by walking into the Miluo River with a heavy stone.

Because he had many readers and supporters, villagers were trying to save Qu Yuan from drowning in the river. Finding that they were too late, they wrapped rice in bamboo packages to throw in the river to prevent the fish from eating his body. To ward off evil spirits and fish, they beat drums and raced in the water with dragon boats, which became the Dragon Boat Festival. This festival is a yearly tradition.

While you’re eating zongzi, you can also watch Boston athletes race on the Charles River in their Dragon Boats. While the festival carries a more joyous tone, the history is interesting to think about. Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center facilitates an event every year. It’s listed in the Boston calendar, and the Boston Dragon Boat Festival has its own facebook page. It’s a great event to check out!