Friday, June 10, 2005

Row, row, row your boat

Sticky Rice Dumpling - A Pool
♥ A Pool of Sticky Rice Dumplings!
It just seems so easy to disregard yet another important cultural festival when you are in a foreign land. I wouldn't have known duan wu jie 端午節 (the Dragon Boat Festival or the Dumpling Festival) is just around the corner until a friend tried to drown us in a pool of sticky rice dumplings! Having said that, if you had been to any Chinese-Asian grocery stores these few weeks, you would have noticed these cute little cone-shaped yummies wrapped up in bamboo leaves. This serves as an excellent reminder that it is time indeed to commemorate one of the greatest patriot in Chinese history - Qu Yuan 屈原.

The Legend of the Patriot - Qu Yuan 屈原投江
During the Warring State Period of Ancient China, there lived a wise and articulate poet named Qu Yuan. Serving as the minister to Chu Huai Wan (Emperor Huai) of the Chu Dynasty 楚國, his intelligence had antagonised other court officials, who were such evils and exerted their devilish influence to turn Emperor Huai against him. Eventually, Qu Yuan was dismissed and exiled. Though sad to see the gradual decline of his mother state, Qu Yuan was a persistent man and did not give up on hope. He travelled extensively to teach about his ideas and had written many great books. He was a man well loved by the people of the Chu Dynasty.

It was on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month when Qu Yuan received news that his beloved country had been defeated by the Qin Dynastry. Devastated and inconsolable, Qu Yuan ended his life by jumping into the Mi Luo river. The villagers who were despaired on hearing Qu Yuan's suicide, rushed to the river in an attempt to rescue him. When they failed to rescue Qu Yuan and also to find his body, they were prepared to do anything to preserve the body of the great poet they loved. The people brought out their drums and gong onto their boats, and with great might, they beat upon them while rowing on the river, hoping to scare away the sea dragon living in the waters. This is how the famous dragon boat race came about.

They also became worried that the fish in the river would start feeding on the body. As an attempt to prevent the fish from feeding on the body of Qu Yuan, people started throwing packets of rice wrapped up in bamboo leaves into the river to feed the fish. These packets of rice later on became known as zong zi, glutinous rice dumpling.

♥ tabeshimashita by Chinese on 5th day of 5th lunar month
Thus on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month each year, there would be dragon boat races and people feasting on sticky rice dumpling. This year, the Dragon Boat Festival falls on 11th June.

Sticky Rice Dumpling - A Bundle
♥ A Bundle of Sticky Rice Dumpling
There are many different types of sticky rice dumplings. Though the sticky rice dumplings may look the same on the outside, each type tastes different, depending on the province you are from.

The sticky rice dumplings that I am showing here is from Central Taiwan, homemade in Sydney by my friend's mom. And this is how the sticky rice dumplings should look like, all tied up into a large bundle. Usually there would be more dumplings tied up into a huge bundle than that shown in the picture, say about 20-30 in one bundle.

Sticky Rice Dumpling - Sticky Rice!
♥ Sticky sticky rice!
All you have to do is to take a scissor and cut off a string off one of the dumpling from the bundle. Unwrap the bamboo leaves and there you have it, a pyramid-shaped sticky rice sitting there, waiting to be devoured!

Sticky Rice Dumpling - A Big Bite
♥ A Big Bite of Sticky Rice Dumpling
These particular dumplings are savoury dumpling. The sticky rice is slightly flavoured with soy sauce. There are also sweet versions of sticky rice dumplings with red dates (red jujebe) or red beans as fillings, or even a plain sticky rice dumplings without any fillings that you enjoy by dipping into honey or rowing in sugar.

Sticky Rice Dumpling - Assorted Fillings
♥ Savoury Fillings
The usual savoury fillings include a piece of soy-braised pork belly, a yolk, chinese mushroom, dried shrimps and dried scallops. The Cantonese version also include a piece of chestnuts. There are also peanut sticky rice dumplings where some peanuts are mixed into sticky rice, or where the fillings include ground peanuts.

I am sorry about the bad quality of the photos here. I shall try and post up some better and clearer and more detailed pictures of the sticky rice dumpling later, perhaps after the festival.

You have one more day to go grab yourself a sticky rice dumpling and join Chinese all around the world in commemorating the great patriotic poet - Qu Yuan!