Back in Hong Kong, whenever it was dragon boat festival, I knew what lunch would be for the next few days – zong! There are so many variations – savoury like the one I made, or sweet with red bean dipped in sugar (which reminds me of my dad because he loves dipping zong in sugar).
As you may have gathered by now, food is a big part of celebrating Chinese holidays so obviously there is a reason we eat zong in dragon boat festival! The story goes that a minister and poet, Qu Yuan, was a faithful servant of the King and dedicated his whole life to helping his country. However, he opposed the King’s decision to ally with another state, and was therefore exiled. When he heard the other state had conquered his state, he was so sad that he drowned himself. The public rowed on the river to search for his body but were unable to find him. To prevent his body from being eaten by fish, they threw these zong into the river so they would eat these instead.
There are also dragon boat races! I remember watching them live in HK with my family while I ate the zong.
The good thing about zong is you can customise it to your tastes so easily! For example, zong is normally stuffed with pork belly, but I don’t really eat pork so I substituted it with chicken. The zong I made turned out quite small, so I always ate 2 (which was the equivalent of one big one I’m used to eating in HK!)
Ingredients (for 10 zong)
50 bamboo leaves (they come in a pack, but I prepared 50 – most of these will probably be broken or tear so you must prepare more than you need! Realistically I only used 30)
450-500g glutinous rice
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
450-500g split yellow mung beans
4-8 boneless and skinless chicken thighs – feel free to substitute with pork
5 salted egg yolks – these are normally in the frozen section (or you can buy fresh ones and boil and then cook them but that’s too much effort for me)
Chinese five spice
I would have loved to have dried shrimp and chestnuts in my zong! Unfortunately they were not available in my local Chinese store, but might head to Chinatown and stock up very soon!
You HAVE to have a big pot for this to soak the leaves and to boil the zong.
Now, this is the hard part. You have to prepare this the day before, so it will take 2 days in total to make this (but so worth it, trust me).
Preparing bamboo leaves (the day before)
The day before you plan on eating it, soak the bamboo leaves in cold water for 1 hour – my pot was not wide enough, so I kept moving them around to make sure they were fully soaked and once they were more pliable, I put something heavy on it (a bowl of water and a steaming rack)
2. Wash the leaves one by one with a sponge, just gliding the sponge from the start to the end of the leaf on both sides – this process is so boring and takes so long but just having music / a movie playing in the background (I had Twilight…don’t judge me)
3. Fill a big pot with cold water and put your leaves inside, then bring to a boil – I folded mine because they should be pliable by now after soaking for 1 hour. You must use cold water, do not wait for the water to come to a boil before putting the leaves in or you may damage them.
4. Once the water is boiling, turn to low-medium heat and boil for another 20 mins.
5. The leaves are ready! Soak them in cold water so they remain soft for the next day.
Preparing the chicken (the day before)
6. Chop the chicken thighs into cubes and marinate them with 1 tbsp chicken powder, a bit of soy sauce and oyster sauce, around a cap full of shaoxing wine – I used to hate it when I would ask my mum for a recipe and she wouldn’t give me proper measurements but I really do just eyeball everything now!
7. Soak the dried mushrooms (8) under warm water a few hours before. After they have softened, squeeze out most of the water, take off the stem and cut into chunks
8. Soak the glutinous rice (450-500g) and split yellow mung beans (450-500g) for 1 hour under warm water.
Assemble the zong
9. Drain the rice and season with 2 tbsp oil, 4 tsp chicken powder, 2 tsp five spice powder and 2 tbsp salt
10. Drain the split yellow mung beans and season with salt
11. Drain the leaves and wipe two of them dry using a cloth. Take 2 big pieces and line them together but on opposite sides, so that the stem of the leaf and the top of the leaf are on the same side.
12. Fold the leaves from the middle so it creates a little bowl, but make sure you fold it deep enough so that there is no way the rice can leak from the bottom.
13. Put 2 tbsp glutinous rice, 1 tbsp split mung beans (feel free to spread it out a bit across the leaf), 2 chunks of chicken, 2 slices of mushroom, 1/2 a salted egg yolk and then 1 tbsp millet, 2 tbsp glutinous rice in that order
14. Take another leaf and fold it on top, then fold over to close the zong
15. Tie with string around the zong and then double knot to close. Watch the video which is much easier to understand than explaining this on paper.
16. Repeat until you run out of rice!
17. Pour cold water onto a big pot and place all the zong inside. Then bring to a boil. Once the water has come to a boil, switch to medium heat and boil for 3 hours. Check on the zong to sweep away some of the musk at the top, to refill the water, and to switch the zong from the top to the bottom so that they will cook evenly.
18. Take it out and eat!
These are honestly so good! The mung beans becomes a paste after boiling for 3 hours (as you can see on the photo). Obviously healthier too if you make it yourself and so much time, effort and love that goes into these if you’re making it for your loved ones too. I froze most of them so I can have my homemade zong any time!