6-19-2015 Week 4: Dragon boat Festival

Last weekend was the Chinese "duanwu" festival, more commonly known as dragon boat festival in English. The festival itself is quite interesting. It celebrates the life of an ancient Chinese scholar-advisor who drowned himself in a river (according to most versions of the story he was overcome with grief because his lord was either (1) unrighteous or (2) righteous but fell victim to bad advice from his other advisors). According to the story, the people--upon hearing of that this advisor had jumped in the river--rushed out in their boats and threw zongzi (sticky rice dumplings) in the water. I've heard their purpose was to feed the fish so that they wouldn't feast on the official's body--touching, but a little morbid.

Out of the story, two major traditions have emerged: dragon boat races and eating zongzi. Although I wasn't able to see the races here in Shanghai, I hear they are quite a big deal in Hangzhou--a city famous for its large lake: "Xihu." I was fortunate, though, to try Shanghai-style zongzi. Some things about zongzi are pretty standard, they're almost always filled with sticky gelatinous rice and wrapped in a banana leaf. They usually come in two varieties: sweet or savory. Some people claim they're an acquired taste. As this is my nineth year celebrating dragonboat festival, I am used to their unique flavor. One thing I have learned, though, is that everyone who offers you zongzi will tell you that their grandmother's zongzi is the best in the world. Moreover, whatever regional variation of zongzi you try (Taiwanese, Hakka, Shanghaiese, etc.), the person offering it to you will always assure you that it is the best kind you've ever tried. So, in the interest of not offending anyone, I'll just say that I've never had a zongzi that I didn't like.