The fifth day of the fifth lunar month, which falls on June 16, is the day the Chinese celebrate the Duanwu Festival, also known as Dragon Boat Festival or Dumpling Festival.
It commemorates the patriotism of Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet and statesman who was accused of treason and banished.
Today, rice dumplings, or zongzi, come in a range of varieties — sweet, savoury, spicy, cylindrical and rectangular - and there is even a trend to include exquisite ingredients into the otherwise humble food.
The Hakka version of the sticky rice parcels, brimming with green beans and black-eyed peas among other ingredients, were selling like hot cakes.
The Taiwanese ones, on the other hand, contained peanuts and salted dried radish.
Another version of the Duanwu Festival touches on avoiding diseases.
As the weather turns warm in the fifth lunar month, insects multiply and spread diseases. So the people hang calamus and Chinese mugwort (both are aromatic plants) to ward off insects and also evil spirits.
Jia zong (假粽): Instead of glutinous rice, mochi-like balls of glutinous rice flour (so no individual grains of rice are discernible) are used to "contain" the filling of the zong. These zong are typically smaller than most zongzi and much stickier.
Jianshui zong (碱水粽): Meaning "alkaline water zong", these are typically eaten as a dessert rather than as a main meal. The glutinous rice is treated with lye water (aqueous sodium carbonate), giving them their distinctive yellow color. Jianshui zong typically contain either no filling or are filled with a sweet mixture (e.g. sweet bean paste). They are often eaten with sugar or light syrup.
Nyonya zong (娘惹粽): A specialty of Peranakan cuisine. These zong are made in similar style with similar fillings as Southern zong. However the wrapping used is pandan leaves.
Dearer but smaller dumplings (The Star)
By Yee Xiang Yun, Tuesday June 15
JOHOR BARU: An increase in pork prices has led to smaller rice dumplings for this year’s Duan Wu festival tomorrow.
Some traders and consumers have even resorted to substituting pork, the preferred meat among the Chinese and one of the traditional and crucial ingredients for the dumpling, with chicken.
A morning market trader, who only wished to be known as Chen, 55, said she was forced to reduce the size of her rice dumplings due to the high price of pork.
“The price has risen tremendously compared to last year and I am forced to make smaller dumplings for sale.
“Last year, 1kg of pork only cost RM9 but now, I have to pay RM13 per kg for pig trotters,” she said, adding that she sold her dumplings in Taman Johor Jaya for RM3 each.
Hot and steamy sale: Freshly steamed glutinous rice dumplings selling like hot cakes at the Ho Yoke Kee store, which has been in business in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur, for at least five decades. The shop is run by Jenny Ho, 40, (left), whose late grandfather started the business.
“Last year, my dumplings cost RM2.50 each and the size was bigger. Some customers have complained but most are of them are understanding about the current situation,” she said.
The annual event, also known locally as the Dragon Boat Festival, commemorates the life and death of the famous Chinese scholar Qu Yuan who drowned himself after being banished by his king over 2,000 years ago.
Housewife Chia Hwa Fong, 53, said she preferred to make her own rice dumplings, as this way she could put in whatever ingredients she liked.
“My family also prefers the dumplings I make compared with the ones sold outside as these are smaller in size and contain little pork.
“The price of pork has definitely affected the price of dumplings, causing them to be dearer but smaller in size,” she said, adding that she would usually add shrimps and dried oysters along with other traditional ingredients such as pork, mushrooms and salted egg yolk in her dumplings.
Factory worker Ngoi Chew Foong, 47, said she used chicken instead of pork for her rice dumplings.
“Chicken is cheaper and easier to prepare. Many of my neighbours were complaining about the high pork prices, which made me think of using chicken instead,” she said.
However, Ngoi said although the price of pork was high, many people still continued using it as the main ingredient because of its more authentic taste.