Did you know that sticky rice dumpling, zongzi, and bak chang are actually all the same thing? Learn more about the tragic story behind this traditional dish.
Sticky Rice Dumplings, Chinese Zongzi, and Bak Chang, these 3 dishes are game-changers that you need to know about if only because they taste delicious. Do you want to know the difference between these dishes?
Well…Surprise! They’re the same delicious thing. Most people don’t realize that like the best movie dramas, Zongzi comes with a pretty tragic back story that’s filled with politics, drama, and death (*gasp*).
In this article, we’ll teach you all about these sticky rice dumplings. You’ll learn about its country of origin and even how to make them. Continue reading to become a knowledgeable culinary wizard.
Country of Origin
Our Zongzi-less existence came to a blissful end in China about 2300 years ago as a means to honor a wise minister and poet, who we will discuss shortly. As with any great recipe, this one has been adapted many different times. Each variation is tastier than the last.
What is Zongzi? It’s a rice dish made up of rice stuffed with a variety of fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves. While not quite the same as dim sum, these tasting dumplings are very versatile.
The fillings and wrappings of these dumplings vary with each dynasty and culture. During the Northern and Southern dynasties, the rice was filled with meat and chestnuts. In the Tang dynasty, the rice was molded into a cone shape where it used to be more triangular.
Today, the differences are regional. Northern China serves bak chang as a dessert and fills it with jujubes or taro. In Southern China, they keep it savory with pork belly, duck egg, or mushrooms.
It’s culturally a family activity to cook and assemble these dumplings as part of the Dragon Boat Festival, which we will also discuss later. Making and carefully assembling these dumplings is a skill that is passed down through generations.
The history of Chinese zongzi develops from an ancient legend. We’ll give you a moment to grab a box of tissues before diving into this surprisingly tear-jerking history of our lovely sticky rice dumplings…
Got ’em? Good.
A popular politician and minister of ancient China, Qu Yuan was known for his wisdom, patriotism, and poetry. During the Warring States period, the state of Chu (modern-day Hubei and Hunan) faced the threat of invasion by the Qin.
There are several variations from the story from here. Many believe Qu Yuan was exiled by the Chu King for suggesting an alliance with the state of Qi to defend against the Qin invasion. The King was a little full of himself and didn’t listen to Qu Yuan. The state was surrendered to the Qin shortly after.
Unable to watch his beloved state fall, Qu Yuan grabbed a large rock and sunk to the bottom of the Miluo River. The Chu people loved Qu Yuan and attempted to retrieve him from the river.
Sadly, the people were not able to find Qu Yuan in the river😭. He eventually became a water spirit, and the Chu people appease his spirit with rice.
However, the rice was usually eaten by dragons before it made it to the spirit. Qu Yuan appeared to the people and told them to use leaves to prevent the dragons from eating the rice. Thus, sticky rice dumplings were born.
This sad story inspired what is known today as the Dragon Boat Festival. On May 5th of the Chinese lunar calendar, Qu Yuan is commemorated with the racing of dragon boats and the consumption of bak chang.
Sticky Rice, Bak Chang, Zongzi Recipe
Whatever you want to call this tasty dish with a terrible origin, it’s surprisingly straightforward to make. Plus, you can decide what to fill it with and whether you want it as a savory side or a sweet dessert.
- 30 sheets fresh bamboo leaves
- 2 cups sticky rice (also called glutinous rice)
- 1 cup filling of choice (red bean paste, dates, meat, etc.)
- Honey or sugar for topping (optional)
- Rinse the rice with water until the water runs clear
- Pour rice into a large bowl, fill with water, and let soak overnight
- Heat water to almost boiling and turn off the heat
- Allow leaves to soak in the water for 1 to 2 minutes or until soft
- Layout bamboo leaves so they are 3-4 inches wide, overlapping if needed
- Fold into a funnel shape (do not leave a hole at the bottom)
- Fill the funnel half-full with rice, adding a small amount of water to help the rice fill the entire bottom
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of filling over the rice, depending on the size of the leaf (we love lots of filling), and top with rice until nearly level with the edge
- Fold the remaining edge of the leaf over the rice and tie with twine
- Repeat with remaining leaves, rice, and filling
- Place dumplings in a large pan and fill with water until almost covered
- Weigh down the dumplings with a heavy plate to prevent them from floating and cover the pot
- Simmer on low heat for 3-4 hours, depending on the size of the dumplings
- Remove the leaves and serve warm or cold
- Top with sugar or honey if desired (but really…why wouldn’t you want to add some extra sweetness?)
Make Some Sticky Rice Dumpling, Zongzi, Bak Chang
The story behind Zongzi is pretty dang tragic, but all the best foods are that way. Either someone’s fighting over it, someone’s hiding it, or someone’s dying for it.
Whatever you call this yummy snack doesn’t matter, as long as you make it ASAP. Make these with a savory or sweet filling and play around with different shapes, too. You really can’t mess this up…well you could if you don’t make it… or put something weird in it…I’m sure it’ll be fine.
For more food that you need to cook ASAP, visit our recipes page.