Jun 19

Double Fifth Festival... the Food!

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

Now that we have all read an abbreviated notation of the Dragon Boat Festival, also known as the "Double Fifth," let's go eat!

Food. Sustenance. Delight.

The key component, no matter if you live by the water or deeper inland, is food. The main component of any culinary gathering is the "zongzi" dumpling, so named for the long leaf (similar to a bamboo leaf) in which it is wrapped [粽子].

Food, and our olfactory recall, is intricately tied to our memory. For some Americans, they can remember going to sleep on Thanksgiving Eve, with the mouth-watering smell of pumpkin pies baking in the oven. For many Chinese, youngsters can remember going to sleep smelling the zongzi cooking in the kitchen to be devoured the following day for breakfast.

Zongzi dumpling

Indeed, the maker of the zongzi is held in high esteem in many Chinese families, as this is a "one day only" item to eat. This honor can even cross gender lines.

Process: The process of zongzi making takes several hours, beginning with boiling and then soaking the bamboo-type leaves overnight to reconstitute them. Then, the special rice needs to soak for 3 hours or so. Meat (usually pork, so abundant) is condimented and cooked; later combined with the rice. Many families nowadays buy the "salty egg" yolk (could be duck or chicken) because that brining process takes a few weeks. The actual shape of the dumpling can vary depending on the length and width of the leaves used—some look more like bulging triangles, others look like delicate isosceles triangles, just a few degrees wide.

Regional Differences:

Of course, there are town and regional differences. (Who can forget the famous zongzi of Jia Xing?) Northern China serves savory zongzi; the South, in this instance, serves salty ones. In a Southern metropolis like Shanghai, that generally loves the slightly sweet/savory juxtaposition, one can find:

  • "Salty" varieties (containing pork, and/or "salty egg" yolk, which is quite traditional)
  • "Sweet" varieties (containing red bean paste, jujube or even dates). There is even a variation of "sweet" zongzi: a plain rice zongzi dipped in sugar or honey.

What a treat!

New World Varieties:

After viewing some pictures of "zongzi" online, I am reminded of the Cuban "tamal" made with reconstituted corn husks, yellow corn meal, and pork filling; the Nicaraguan (and Honduran) "nacatamal" made with fresh banana leaf, white corn meal, and a meat filling. Let us not forget the Mexican "tamal" as well. This type of cooking and food preparation must surely be the origin of "food on the go," a meal neatly packaged in a biodegradable leaf!

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Here at Jump!, culture is deeply embedded in food offerings. Our native-speaking teachers revel in sharing the culture, music, rhymes, holidays, and food of their home countries. Any food presentation will be the culmination of a thematic presentation on a specific country, region or town, or a holiday. A few examples: the "Rosca de Reyes" or "Kings' Bread Ring" presented during Three Kings' Day in Latin America. Or the "Pan de Muerto" [a bread roll] offered during the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead, right around Halloween. How about a simple quesadilla for Cinco de Mayo? Food is truly a delightful way to "build bridges" and see, smell and taste how people eat in a different part of the world.

Jackie Sanin, the school's CEO, hopes that our students, whether they have spent 1, 2, 3 or 4 years at Jump! Immersion School, can blend in with locals during their travels or studies and not skip a beat. As a parent, I daydream about that. Be open to the possibilities.

Be sure to check out yesterday's post about Dragon Boat Festival, also known as the "Double Fifth"