June 4, 2022

Northern Taiwan Zongzi 台灣北部粽子

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子

It's that time of the year for the Dragon Boat Festival also known as Duan Wu Festival 端午節!  This festival celebrates the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan 屈原 (340-278 BC) who advised against an alliance to the displeasure of the Chu emperor who then exiled him.  When the alliance led to the eventual downfall of the Chu kingdom as he had foreseen, Qu Yuan threw himself into a river in grief and despair.

Apparently he was well loved for the local folk rushed out in boats (ie dragon boats) to try to save him.  When that failed they dropped balls of sticky rice (ie zongzi) in the river so that the fish would feed on the rice and not on Qu Yuan's body.  Kinda of a disturbing ending but whatever...

Tai O Dragon Boat Water Parade,  Photo by Kelvin Ma

Thus it is that zongzi 粽子, sticky rice dumplings filled with both savory and sweet fillings and wrapped and bound in fragrant leaves before cooking, are made and eaten each year  in celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival while outdoors the great dragon boat races are held with great drums a-booming and multiple oars a-splashing and crowds a-cheering.  

There are many kinds of zongzi types and in the past we've made Grandma's savory meat zongzi 肉粽子, sweet red bean paste zongzi 紅豆沙粽子 and mini crystal red bean zongzi 水晶紅豆粽子.  This year we decided to try something different, the Northern Taiwan Zongzi 台灣北部粽子.  

This zongzi is different from all others because it is made by first cooking all the ingredients, both the filling and the rice, with seasoning before being assembled and wrapped and then steamed.  It's a bit of work, more than the average zongzi I'd say, but this Northern Taiwan Zongzi 台灣北部粽子 was a most wonderful revelation, each bite packed full of rich flavors, the fillings varied in texture and deliciously seasoned, the stir fried seasoned rice deliciously chewy instead of sticky.  

It's pretty amazing, actually, and, more importantly, got a serious thumbs up from the family!

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子

The first step is to gather the ingredients.  For myself I got everything I needed at my local wet market.  At this time of the year the vendors at the wet market stock up on all the stuff needed for zongzi so it's easy peasy to shop.

The first thing needed is glutinous long rice 糯米 which is the kind that cooks up sticky.  Glutinous rice is a chalkier white than regular rice which is more pale and clear.  Give the glutinous rice a long soak overnight before steam cooking it.

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子

This packaged beauty is the salt preserved yolks of duck eggs 鹹蛋黃.  I was lazy this year and instead of making my own homemade salted duck eggs 鹹鴨蛋 I opted to try these packaged yolks.  Really convenient and time saving but ultimately lacking a bit in flavor and luscious texture.  So next year it's back to making our own salt preserved eggs but dang it sure is convenient.  

If you don't have the time buy them online here.

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子

These are chestnuts 栗子.  I found these with the shell removed already but as you can see the fluffy skins are still attached.  I tried the soaking method, ie soak for a long bit and then remove skin by picking with a toothpick, and, let me tell you (steam coming out of ears) that totally did not work. 

What did work was removing the skins after boiling the chestnuts.  But you gotta work while the chestnuts are hot.  Grab 'em with a towel and rub.  The skins come off just like that.  But remember it's gotta be hot.

If you've got whole chestnuts you need to cut an x in the shell before boiling.  After boiling, it's basically the same as above, except you remove the shell as well as the skin.

One thing that I would do different next time is to boil the chestnuts til soft but to not stir fry them with seasonings as with all the other fillings.  Stir frying the chestnuts made them harder than I liked.  It would be better to just boil and peel them and then add them tender, creamy and sweet straight into the zongzi.

Tip:  Get them fresh online here.

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子

I love shallots.  These little red onions are milder than the normal onion.  Deep fried they make the most deliciously golden and crunchy garnish.  Stir fried, they become meltingly tender and sweet.  

I've never added shallots to a zongzi before but I love it.  An added flavor layer and texture.  Shallots should be in all savory zongzi!

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子
Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子

The next two ingredients for this zongzi filling are staples in the Chinese pantry, both dried foods having the transformed intensity and texture that dried foods provide.  

The first is the Chinese dried shitake mushroom 冬菇 which provides a really intense mushroom flavor and a pleasing chewy texture.   For this zongzi part of the mushrooms is used for the filling while another part is sliced thin and added to the stir fried glutinous rice.

The Chinese dried small shrimps 蝦米乾 provide small burst of concentrated sea sweet shrimp flavor as well as bits of deliciously chewy texture.  Both the mushroom and the shrimp need to be soaked in water to soften, the mushroom taking a longer soaking time so start 'em early.  Be sure to reserve the soaking waters to add back into the pork cooking broth for extra flavor.

As you can see this zongzi is just bursting with flavor and textures!

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子

Let's not forget one of the most important ingredients for any savory zongzi, the pork belly or as the Chinese name it the Five Flower Meat 五花肉.  Chinese names are so weird sometimes, amirite?  

The reason for the flowery name is the five layers of fat, meat, fat, etc. in the pork belly, as you can see in the photo above.  This is the same cut used to make bacon.  In Chinese cuisine this cut is revered for the meltingly tender and flavorful result that the fatty pork provides.  It is the fat or lard that comes from this cut that makes the savory zongzi so yummilicious. 

I would recommend using a thicker slice of pork belly, at least 1 inch.  That way each zongzi gets one piece of meat.  I used these thinner slices and the flavor was fantastic but because I used two slices per zongzi they slipped against each other causing the zongzi to tend to break up at where they met.

The pork belly cut comes with the skin on.  You must remove the skin for zongzi.  This is easily done by sliding a sharp knife against the skin as you pull the skin away from the fat.

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子

The shallots are sliced and cooked until golden and soft.  Half is used in the filling and half reserved for the stir fried glutinous rice.

The dried mushrooms and shrimps are cooked with seasonings.  Half the cooked shallots are mixed in.  You can see the chestnuts in the photo above but as I said above I recommend not putting the chestnuts in at this point, rather adding the boiled chestnuts directly into the zongzi during wrapping.

At this point I couldn't help but to sneak bits here and there.  Let me tell you that everything at this point already tasted super duper yummy!

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子

In another pot and at the same time you can cook the pork belly.  This part really was a revelation!  The pork belly is lightly stir fried and then cooked until tender in a broth of rice wine, reserved dried mushroom and shrimp soaking water and various seasonings.  

A lot of rice wine, I emphasis, and this was the revelation.  Cooking pork in a shit ton of rice wine made for the most yummilicious and tender pork belly I have ever had.  OMG, it was so good.  If you like pork belly you've got to try cooking it this way.  For us, it has definitely redefined the parameters of porky yumminess.  

The lovely pork is removed and the cooking broth reserved for, you know it, the stir fried glutinous rice!  Nothing wasted, all the flavors incorporated.  Like I keep saying, bursting with flavors!

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子

The already steamed glutinous rice is stir fried with the reserved sliced mushrooms, cooked shallots and cooking broth of the pork belly.  Stir until rice is completely mixed with the broth.  

Here I would advise that the stir fried rice should not be too dry.  I think I over cooked a bit and this seemed to make the packing of the zongzi a bit more difficult.  I think it should be moist enough to stick together when pressed lightly.  If the mixing of the broth with the rice makes it too dry, just add a tbsp or two of water at a time to adjust.  

The texture and taste of the rice reminds me of Lo Mai Gai 糯米雞, the dim sum classic of lotus leaf wrapped glutinous rice filled with chicken.

Okay, just gotta say, I snuck some of the rice at this point and...yummy,  just darn yummy...  And everyone kept dropping by the kitchen at this point asking, what's cooking?

chinese,zongzi,rice dumplilng,tamale,recipe,台灣,北部,Northern Taiwan,粽子,zong zi
1) Leaf folded to a funnel
chinese,zongzi,rice dumplilng,tamale,recipe,台灣,北部,Northern Taiwan,粽子,zong zi
2) Add rice, then fillings
chinese,zongzi,rice dumplilng,tamale,recipe,台灣,北部,Northern Taiwan,粽子,zong zi
3) Add top layer of rice
chinese,zongzi,rice dumplilng,tamale,recipe,台灣,北部,Northern Taiwan,粽子,zong zi
4) Close up and tie

Okay, so finally on to the actual wrapping.  Like I said, this zongzi is a bit of work, but heck, it's once a year and it's important to spend some effort to maintain those ties to tradition and history and the feeling of belonging.  You know what I mean.  Especially and specifically for the little ones.

The photos above show the wrapping of the zongzi in the style prefered by the Taiwanese, which is the smaller triangular shaped style.  Previously we've wrapped using the longer zongzi wrapping style, click on the link to see our video guide.  

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子

Another big difference between this Northen Taiwan Zongzi and other zongzi is in the final cooking stage.  Other zongzi are boiled for long hours which allows the raw glutinous rice and ingredients to fully cook and fuse with each other, ending with a quite sticky and delicious rice dumpling.  This particular zongzi only requires a shortish steaming since everything is fully cooked already and only needs the final touch of heat to meld the flavors together.

Once steamed these Northen Taiwan zongzi are ready to be served.  And, man oh man, wait til you get to the fillings, each delicious in its own right yet also perfect with a bit of the tasty chewy well seasoned rice.  With so much to choose from this zongzi is like eating at a zongzi buffet!

Serve this delicious zongzi with a sweet chili sauce 甜辣醬, a perfect complement to the delectably flavored and chewy glutinous rice.  See our easy recipe for homemade sweet chili sauce.

 If you try these out let us know what you think of these unique zongzi.  And next time we'll explore the Southern Taiwan Zongzi and find out how these two compare!  

Happy Dragon Boat Festival from us here at The Hong Kong Cookery!

Northern Taiwan,  Zongzi , zong zi, chinese, rice dumplilng, tamale, recipe,	台灣, 北部, 粽子
Northern Taiwan Zongzi  Recipe

(makes 14 zongzi) Prep time: 1 hr  Cook time: 30 mins


    Cooking Broth for pork
    Sauce for Stir Frying
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp Chinese ground white pepper
  • 1/2 cup water, 100g


Overnight Preparation
Soak the zongzi leaves and straw if using in tub of water overnight.

Rinse the glutinous rice until water runs clear.  Soak in water for as least 4 hours or overnight.  Sieve water out, place onto a flat dish and steam for 35 mins at high heat.  Let cool.

Preparation of Fillings
Soak the dried mushroom in warm water to cover.  For the mushrooms you'll want to do this a couple hours earlier as sometimes the mushrooms take a long time to soften.  When the mushrooms are softened cut off the stems and slice 7 of the mushrooms into halves and the other 2 into thin slices.  Reserve soaking water.

Soak the dried shrimp in water to cover until softened, around 10 mins.   Remove shrimp from water.  Reserve soaking water.

Cut skin off the pork belly.  Cut into 14 pieces.  Heat wok and add pork, stir frying for a minute or two.  Add 3 tbsp oyster sauce, 3/4 cup rice wine, 2 tsp rock sugar, 1 tbsp white pepper powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp sesame oil and 1/2 cup water into wok.  When boiling turn down heat to a simmer, cover and let cook for around 45 mins for until the pork is tender and easily pierced.  Remove pork to a dish and reserve the cooking broth.

If chestnuts still have their shells, use a small sharp knife to cut an x into skin while holding the chestnut steady.  Put chestnuts (with or without shells) in small pot with water to cover, bring to boil and simmer for 20 mins or until tender and easily pierced through with a knife.  When just cool enough to handle, peel shell and skins off.

If the skins are hard to remove, rub with a towel and it should come off.  Keep the chestnuts hot when removing skins.  If it cools down it will be hard to remove.

Prepare salted duck eggs.  If using pre-packaged salted egg yolks just open and separate the yolks.  If using the whole eggs rinse the ash off the shells, crack and remove the yolks.  Rinse lightly under running water and gently dry.

Peel shallots and slice into 1/4 inch slices.  Add 4 tbsp oil to wok and shallow fry the shallots until golden and soft. Remove to a bowl.

Add 1 tbsp oil to hot wok.  Add in mushroom halves and shrimp and stir fry until fragrance rise, 1-2 mins.  Add in 2 tbsp oyster sauce, 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp Chinese white pepper powder and 1/2 cup water and stir fry til sauce is thickened and clinging.  Turn off heat and add in half of the fried shallots and mix.  Remove to dish.

To make the stir fried glutinous rice add 1 tbsp oil to a clean wok.  Add sliced mushrooms.  Stir fry til fragrant, about half a minute.  Add the reserved pork cooking broth, steamed glutinous rice and stir fry til evenly mixed.  Add in other half of stir fried shallots and gently mix in.

Wrapping the Zongzi
To wrap the zongzi, take two zongzi leaves and cut off the hard stems at the end. Fold in half so that a funnel is formed but the bottom of funnel is sealed.  Keep hold of this funnel shape with firm grip between palm on the outside and thumb on the inside.  (Please see our detailed explanation of triangular zongzi wrapping coming up next.)  If you like to wrap it the long zongzi style please click the link.

Add in one scoop (about 1 1/2 tbsp) of stir fried glutinous rice, smoothing up along the longer side of the leaf.  Add in one piece pork, one yolk, one piece mushroom, one chestnut and one small scoop of dried shrimp and shallots.  Add another scoop of rice on top and smooth over everything, trying to cover all with rice.  Tamp done gently with the back of a spoon until firm.  

Fold the zongzi leaf over the rice and fold down on the two sides so that the fillings are completely covered.  Fold the bit of the leaf still sticking out over to one side.  The fillings should be completely wrapped up now.  Firmly tie the wrapped zongzi with string.  It's important that the zongzi are wrapped firmly but gently with no holes but it's hard to do it well right away so just do your best.  Repeat for all the zongzi.

Steam the wrapped zongzi for 45 mins over high heat.  If eating right away remove from steamer and cut the string.  Unwrap onto a plate and serve hot with sweet chili sauce 甜辣醬 or sweet soy sauce.

If not eaten right away the zongzi should be left to cool down completely and then stored in the fridge in an air tight container for up to 5 days and for months if kept in the freezer.  To reheat from fridge steam for 10 mins.  To reheat from freezer steam for 30 mins.  Enjoy!



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