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Dumplings, Zong Zi 粽子

zong ziDumplings,Zong Zi,  粽子,are traditional Chinese food available all year round. The demand for zongzi peaked around the Dumpling festival, Duan Yu Jie, 端午,  also known as Dragon Boat festival. The dumplings are consumed in memory of Qu Yuan, 屈原, a statesman and poet from the Kingdom of Chu, 楚国, who committed suicide at the invasion of his country by the Qin armies.  

Dumplings are made of glutinous rice in the shape of a pyramid, wrapped in bamboo leaves, tied with a string and either boiled or steamed. The stuffing inside the dumpling can be sweet or savory and reflects regional dietary patterns and preferences. Dumplings are often consumed with Chinese tea to aid digestion.

Like the mooncakes, dumplings have a few basic rules relating to the shape and the materials used (mainly glutinous rice as the body). Beyond this, it is up to the creativity of the producers to come up with new and interesting variations of dumplings.

The social dumension of dumplings

The production of dumplings is a collective family effort. The bamboo leaves and materials were sometimes bought weeks ahead.  Nearing the festival, most of the family members were activated in the production process to wash the leaves, prepare the glutinous rice, stuffing and in the steaming or boiling process. Some family may even have their secret recipes.

When the dumplings are prepared, they are consumed together as a family and also presented as gifts between neighbors, friends and relatives. The parties involved often give their dumplings as a return gift so that every family ends up with a wide variety of dumplings.

These days, many restaurants and food outlets offer dumplings for sale during the Dumpling festival. Their products are welcomed by families who do not have the time to produce their own dumplings. They buy them for private consumption and as gifts.

As producing of dumpling can be time consuming, a new version of precooked and shrink wrapped dumpling as emerged to meet the needs of the busy consumer.

This preecooked dumpling only needs to be mircowaved and it is ready for consumption.

Varities of dumplings

The different types of dumplings are often distinguished from the color or combination of colors of strings used to tie the dumpling. There are no fix rules to the color and every family or business will have their own color coding patterns.

Dumplings look the same when wrapped in bamboo leaves and when unwrapped, the color may vary slightly depending on the type of glutinous rice used or the cooking process. The main distinguishing factor between dumplings is the stuffing.

The stuffing can be sweet or savory and gives a lot of clues about the background and economic status of the family producing it or the target customers of the restaurant or shop. Vegetarian dumplings are also available for vegetarians. A wealthier family or a restaurant targeting higher end customer will have more expensive and higher quality ingredients. A mass market producer or an average family will use more common ingredients.

Whichever type of dumplings consumed, they contribute to the same process of cultural reproduction. When dumplings are being produced or consumed together, the story of Qu Yuan is almost inevitably told especially if there are children around. In this way, consumption of dumpling becomes a mechanism to consume the collective aspiration of patriotism embodied by Qu Yuan’s history. The continuous production of dumpling and the celebration of the Dumpling festival over successive generations reflect the collective social ideas of Chinese communities. 


 

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