Besides the annual Dragon Boat race, foodies in Hong Kong also know the festival by the rice dumpling ranges that come with it. Rice dumplings wrapped in either reed or indocalamus leaves, also known as zongzi (粽子), were first documented in the 3rd century as a rice dish wrapped in bamboo leaves (or similar counterparts) that was popular among commoners. The food made its appearance in folklore later in history, along with the story of the rice dumplings that villagers threw into the ocean to feed the fish after the Warring States period poet Qu Yuan (屈原) threw himself into the sea.
Over the years, the zongzi evolved in most Chinese-speaking countries and Asia, resulting in all the different kinds of rice dumplings we enjoy today. This roundup covers some of the most popular ones in the city and where to get them.
Probably the most commonly seen rice dumplings in Hong Kong, Jianshui zongzi, can be found in most local congee shops, and sometimes in yum cha places. Simple yet addictive, this variation of rice dumplings is filled with glutinous rice treated with jianzongshui, aqueous alkaline water, that gives it a distinctive yellow color. The plain zongzi is usually served with white sugar on the side for extra flavor. The fancier Jianshui zongzi might surprise you with a sweet red bean or green bean paste — depends on where you get them!
Our favorite! The Chiuchow zongzi wrapped with bamboo leaves stands out from the others for its rich flavors. Wafting with the aroma of traditional Chiuchow-style brine, the dumpling reveals the jam-packed fillings inside that usually include a piece of glossy brined pork, dried mushroom, other savory ingredients, and is finished with a sweet red bean paste. Usually wrapped into a triangular shape, Chiuchow-style rice dumplings will satisfy foodies who need savory as much as they need sweet flavors in their dumpling.
Where to get Chiuchow zongzi: Carrianna ChiuChow Cuisine Restaurant (+852 2511 1282)
A variation that originated in Hong Kong and Guangdong Province in China, Cantonese zongzi is known for its lavish range of ingredients wrapped inside the fragrant leaves. Besides local favorites like Jinhua ham, cured meat and even roasted duck, upscale Cantonese restaurants in the city have topped the game in recent years with dumplings filled with rare ingredients like abalone and dried fish maw.
The Taiwanese variation of the traditional food is divvied up into its two schools of gastronomy — Southern and Northern. The Northern- and Southern-style dumplings are differentiated by their cooking style instead of the ingredients. The zongzi in Northern Taiwan are first fried in a wok with five-spice powder, soy sauce and oil before being wrapped in leaves. As for the ones in southern Taiwan, ingredients are braised before being wrapped in glutinous rice and boiled in water. If you are looking for Taiwanese zongzi with a balanced ratio of greasiness and mildness, try those in Central Taiwan! All jokes aside, ingredients in dumplings in Central Taiwan are first fried and then steamed, offering the best from its Northern- and Southern-style counterparts.
Where to get Taiwanese zongzi: Ping Shang
Also known as Bánh chưng, this version of zongzi is usually eaten in celebration of the lunar new year in Vietnam. Inside Bánh chưng are the regular guests: pork and green bean paste. The black pepper filling adds an exciting layer to the savory dumpling. Eat it with fish sauce for the extra dash of Vietnamese taste!
Where to get Vietnamese zongzi: Try looking for them in your local Vietnamese supermarkets/grocery stores!
The Hakka variation sees chewy glutinous rice wrapped around ingredients like dried baby shrimps, shallot, dried shitake mushrooms and pork strips. What makes it so different from the other zongzi is that Hakka rice dumplings are served cold: perfect for the hot days in June in Hong Kong.
Where to get Hakka zongzi: Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees