Tne of the saddest memories I had as a child was that of the year when my mother could not make zhongzi for my siblings and I. That was the year when we had to mourn the untimely passing of my father. We could not celebrate the duanwu jie like others. Zhongzi could only be given to us by close relatives as we were not allowed to make our own.....
The Foochows in Sibu continue to observe this kind of mourning rites. So for a long time whenever I saw a zhongzi (in those days zhongzi were not sold every day in eateries) I would be thinking of how hard it was to be fatherless. Zhongzi also reminded me to be strong and independent and to disregard the sideway looks of relatives who were so wearied that we the young orphans would drop by and ate at their homes or my mother would need to borrow some money.
But I have always been very very grateful that my resourceful mother was able to support all of us - aged 11 months to 16 years old at the time of my father's passing - through university. If she ever borrowed any money she would stinch and we would all eat less in order for her to pay the debt before the month was over. Her dignity and her noble heart served her well into the time when our fortunes turned for the better. No one would ever say that we lived on hand outs.
So each year as we eat our zhongzi we remind ourselves of Chu Yuan and something more : steadfastness and self determination - which are important values we have to adhere to. Siblings moreover have to stick to each other tight like the rice grains in the dumplings. If we don't our family like the loose zhongzi would burst and the rice grains would be everywhere in the pot. The string of love must tie us tightly together as a family.
Duanwu Festival (or Dragon Boat Festival, is a traditional and statutory holiday associated with Chinese and other East Asian and Southeast Asian societies as well. It is a public holiday in Taiwan as well as in Hong Kong and Macau. In 2008, the festival was restored in China as an official national holiday.
The festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar on which the Chinese calendar is based.
The focus of the celebrations includes eating the rice dumpling zongzi, drinking realgar wine, and racing dragon boats.
Today 16th of June 2010 is Duanwu Festival when the Chinese community in Malaysia will make rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves to commemorate the death of Chu Yuan who ended his life because he was saddened by the unrelenting Emperor who did not listen to his wise guidance.
The common people rose to the occasion. They did not want the fish and other aquatic animals to eat up his body so they threw specially made dumplings into the river to deter them from tearing up his body.
To this day since 600 BC the Chinese have remembered this great and wise man in this way.
This festival which is a summer festival in China follows the Spring festival which is also known as the Chinese Lunar New Year.
These are the special reed tied ones with salted eggs and mushrooms and pork.
For a few years after my father's passing we ate dumplings with fillings of peanuts and red beans because they were less costly. Dumplings with pork filling were rare but my maternal grandmother (the best zhongzi maker in the world) made sure she sent a few bundles or dai (10 dumplings in each bundle). These would be identified by a red string at the top of the knot. Red bean or dou sah would have a green thread. Peanuts would be identified by the lack of an identity coloured thread or string. Grandma used the dried reed (or keng chou) from China to tie her zhongzi. Today most people would use raffia strings or strong kitchen strings.
We hanged them from a bamboo pole to air the dumplings which if sparingly eaten would last us for a few days or even a week. My mother and maternal grandmother would never stop us from eating a few more. - although as children we would lovingly count how many dumplings were still available for us to eat each day!!
One very important ingredient found in the rice dumpling of good quality today is salted eggs with a very red egg yolk. I love the rich texture and taste of a rice dumpling with a salted egg yolk. For this occasion I will forget about cholesterol and let my taste buds have their festival too!!
Although some Chinese would not remember why we still make this type of rice dumplings on this occasion many continue to celebrate the day when Chu Yuan stood up for righteousness and justice for the people. Chu Yuan has been remembered for centuries but few can remember the Emperor who drove him to his desperate death.