Any Chinese person would have heard of the famous story of the sticky rice dumpling during their childhood days which revolves around the love for patriotism. Eating the rice dumplings, or also known as ‘Zong Zi’ in Mandarin has been a tradition for the Chinese to commemorate the death of a famous Chinese poet called Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan’s failure in warning his King of their neighbour’s expansion into their kingdom caused much grief to the poet which lead to his demise through suicide by drowning. These dumplings were said to be thrown into the river to prevent fish from eating the poet’s body.
Rice dumplings are usually made from glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves giving it that woody smell when steaming them. The traditional rice dumplings have fillings such as salted duck egg yolks, chestnuts, pork and Chinese mushrooms. The art of wrapping the rice dumplings is an intricate process which is passed down from generations to preserve the tradition of having the rice dumplings neatly presented on the dinner table of Chinese families during the “Duan Wu” festival.
The rice dumplings have many variations to it due to how people in the different provinces of China make them. One of the most famous and widely eaten rice dumplings is the Nonya rice dumpling made by the Peranakans. The Nonya rice dumpling has a distinct sweet taste to it due to a spice mix blended with the mince pork. Nonya rice dumplings are typically smaller than the original rice dumpling.
Another prolific rice dumpling called the ‘Jian Shui Zong’ which means “Alkaline Water Dumpling” is usually served as a dessert with sweet fillings such as red bean paste or eaten with Kaya, which is a very sweet and fragrant coconut jam. The glutinous rice in the ‘Jian Shui Zong’ has its yellow coloring due to the lye water that is used to treat it. These dumplings are usually miniature sized compared to the other dumplings.
These rice dumplings can be found anywhere in Malaysia especially Chinatown during the rice dumpling season or food courts of shopping malls. ‘Zong Zi’ can be easily identified by its pyramid shape and held together by twine or colored raffia string. The abundance of flavour in the ‘Zong Zi’ comes from the balanced mix of various ingredients paired with the soft texture and slightly salted taste of the glutinous rice. If ever one has the chance of trying out this exquisite dish, one only has to remember the rich history and significant place it has in the hearts of the Chinese people to truly appreciate the sticky rice dumpling.