Happy Dragon Boat Festival!

So, a big part of celebrating the festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, is making and eating zong (or zong zi).

It’s a little bamboo wrapped package of savory sticky rice filled with pork belly, Chinese sausage, peanuts, red beans, shitaki mushrooms and, salted duck eggs. Eating one or even two (if your belly is ambitious enough – mine has definitely been there) will set you back the entire day. They will sit in your stomach afterward like a brick but they are so delicious – especially when the fat from the pork belly melts throughout and so each bite is…sheer joy.

Zong | EMPTY BAMBOO GIRL by Lillian Lee

Zong made by Mama Chan.

This year is kinda sad because for the first time my mother won’t be making them. What do you mean the whole house isn’t going to feel like a steaming sauna or there won’t be the smell of bamboo leaves permeating everywhere?

But, it’s all for good reason. Making zong is very labor intensive. You’ve got to prepare all the ingredients and since my mom makes her own salted eggs, she’s prepping months in advance. There’s also the washing of the bamboo leaves that come dried. That in itself takes a few days as you wash, soak and repeat.

The fun part is the wrapping. You’ve got to layer and overlap the leaves in such a way that the rice and fillings don’t spill out and then you’ve got to wrap it tight and then bring the string around to keep it all together.

zong | EMPTY BAMBOO GIRL by Lillian Lee

Behold the incredible sheen from the pork fat.

My mom usually breaks out the giant lobster pots just for this occasion. She fills them up with water and drops the zong in to boil away for hours and hours. Depending on when you’ve started, you might have to sacrifice some sleep to watch the pots. Once done, she’ll fill brown paper shopping bags with them and give them out to family and friends.

Even tho we only have zong from the Chinese bakery this year, I’m looking forward to next year when we can start passing down the tradition to the baby…and maybe I’ll be able to learn once and for all how to make them myself.

For the next generation.