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The History & Art of Making Joong | Zongzi 粽子| Dragon boat Festival

Ah…it’s that glorious time of year when my Grandma makes each family a dozen joong, or zong zi, each. I call it the Chinese tamale as it is a sticky rice mixture wrapped in bamboo leaves steamed for over 3 hours. Joong keeps well when frozen and can be reheated in the microwave for 2 minutes or re-steamed. Joong is eaten during the Dragon boat Festival which falls on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. This year, in 2016, the festival falls on June 9th!

Table of Action

A Brief History Behind Dragon Boat Festival (In case you want to know):

A long time ago in China (roughly 40 BC), there was a famous poet named Qu Yuan. He was one of the Emperor’s most loyal servants—thus earning the envy and fear of the other officials. After these officials made slanderous accusations about Qu, the Emperor banished him to a remote area. Upset about losing the Emperor’s trust, Qu committed suicide by drowning himself in the Milo river on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. The people of the village thought Qu was a noble man, so to pay their respects, they threw bamboo leaves filled with rice (known as joong or zongzi) into the river to keep the fish and the powerful river dragon from eating his body. And to honor the poet’s devotion to the Emperor, the Dragon boat Festival was born.

Every year, from May to June, generations of Chinese moms, aunties, and daughters come together to make joong (zongzi 粽子) as a way to acknowledge dragon boat folklore. It’s also their way of passing the torch from one generation to another.

Group Photo

Pots boiling
Now I can’t speak too much on the Dragonboat Festival as my family has never competed or taken part in the boat races. However, I can speak about these delicious Chinese tamales even more so this year because I documented it all on camera!

Video on How to Wrap the Joong

My grandma is usually the only one who makes roughly 100 joong each year. However, she literally said, “If you don’t come, you get none!” Tell me why my entire family showed up this year?! It’s because grandma’s joong is always the BEST joong. Sure, they sell these in stores for $5 each, but you never know what’s inside of them (and then I’m always disappointed). The only way to know that the joong is to your liking is to MAKE THEM YOURSELF!


Luckily for you, my grandma is sharing her recipe. Keep in mind, this is a recipe for the masses. Expect to make 100 joong! The great thing about my grandma’s recipe is that you really don’t have to cook anything prior as joong is cooked beyond 4 hours. It is mostly preparation, however. But this makes for a fun a activity for the whole family!


Here’s What You’ll Need

– 6 packs of dried bamboo leaves (12 oz bags)
– 25 lbs of Sho-Chiku-Bai sweet rice
– 3 packs of Kam Yen Jan Chinese Sausage (14 oz packs)
– 8 lbs pork
– 4 dozen eggs (If you want to make your own salted eggs and can wait roughly 35-40 days. See below for recipe!) Otherwise, you can buy them too–it just doesn’t taste as good 🙁
– 1/2 lb Dried Shrimp
– 1 bag Dried Mung Beans (tba)
– 2 packs of peeled chestnuts
– 3 Rolls of String (preferably so you don’t have to wait for string when making joong with your family)
– Salt
– Large Pots

– Large bag of Peanuts (My brother is allergic so we don’t make them with peanuts anymore. But peanuts were my favorite part because when you open the joong, we would search for the peanuts first like we were on a scavenger hunt!)

6 packs of dried bamboo leaves

6 packs of dried bamboo leaves

3 packs of Chinese sausage

3 packs of Chinese sausage

25 lbs of Sho-Chiku-Bai sweet rice. They come in 5lb and 10lb bags.

25 lbs of Sho-Chiku-Bai sweet rice. They come in 5lb and 10lb bags.

Preparing Your Ingredients the Day Before

Bamboo leaves
1. Hand-wash each bamboo leaf (front and back) with water
2. Boil washed leaves for 15 minutes
3. Let cool and soak in water tub with some sort of weight on top to keep leaves submerged in water overnight

Pork Belly
Totally optional and up to you if you want to make it from scratch. We enjoy the crispy top, so that’s why we make them ourselves. (Recipe coming soon. My mom is literally on a plane right now to see me!)

Preparing Your Salted Eggs 35-40 Days Before

Homemade Salted Eggs
You can buy them already salted if you don’t have 35 days to wait.

If you have the time (35-40 days), it is so easy to make your own salted eggs! 46 eggs submerged in salt water for 40 days.

If you have the time (35-40 days), it is so easy to make your own salted eggs! 46 eggs submerged in salt water for 40 days.

You’ll need:
– 4 dozen eggs
– 1 cup salt per 6 cups water (6-to-1 ratio)
– Large glass jar or jar with a lid (to fit 4 dozen eggs)
– Paper Towel

1. Boil the water to dissolve the salt. Important: Let it cool completely.
2. Place 4 dozen eggs (or as many as you can) into the large glass container
3. Fill jar with the cooled water and salt mixture all the way to the top so it covers all the eggs. The ratio is 1 cup to every 6 cups of water.
4. Stuff a paper towel in between the rim and the top of the eggs to keep all eggs from floating. You want to make sure all eggs are submerged in salt water and a simple paper towel does the trick.
5. Wait for 35-40 days. You will want to label the jar with the starting date so you don’t forget!

After you crack the egg after 40 days, this is what it will look like. The yolk will be hard.

After you crack the egg after 40 days, this is what it will look like. The yolk will be hard.

All other ingredients you do not have to worry about because they can be wrapped raw.

Preparation Day Of

Set yourself up by organizing each ingredient in their own bowl or tub. You can pull out the bamboo leaves a tub at a time. They will start to dry out if you do not wrap them fast enough, so leaving the other portions submerged in water is recommended while working on your first half of joong.

1. Rinse rice in water, drain, and strain
2. Mix 1/4 cup of salt to each 10 lbs of rice. Mix well.

Mung Beans
1. Rinse in water to reduce residue from the mung beans and drain

The wrapping part is a little too hard to explain through writing, so watch the video below!

I hope you enjoy making joong with your family too!

Look at all the joong!

Look at all the joong!

Happy Dragon Boat Festival!

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  • Charleen Chu

    Thank you so much for posting! Besides wrapping dumplings, my mom did not have any family cooking traditions like this as she grew up during the wars in China and was thrilled to simply have a bit of fat once in a while to smear into the plain rice. When I was growing up in California, I attended the Lotus festivals and ate these wonderful, huge zongzi that were made by the senior citizens of the LA Chinatown. Then one year, they were not there. Although it has been maybe 35-40 years, they are still among my very fondest food memories. I heavily regret being too shy to ask the ladies to teach me how to make them, as my mother had suggested. Your family recipe has many of the same ingredients that I recall, which include treasures such as chestnuts, salted duck egg, shrimp, as well as the more common pork and peanuts. The video is so helpful. Maybe I can get a friends together to try it!

  • nickisun

    Hi Charleen! Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post and leaving a comment. It made my day! I definitely appreciate my grandmother’s efforts over the years making these joong ALL BY HERSELF! It’s so much more fun when we did this all together! However, they were all different sizes this year, haha. I definitely had one for lunch today and was asking, “WHO MADE THIS ONE?! SO SMALL!” Let me know if you ever try this recipe with your friends–I’d love to see how these turned out for you!

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