xHgGrtG-show-poster2x3-aXpIxNN.png

Artbound

Start watching
Tending Nature poster 2021

Tending Nature

Start watching
IYhnPQZ-show-poster2x3-Ytk6YwX.png

Southland Sessions

Start watching
RYQ2PZQ-show-poster2x3-OGargou.jpg

Earth Focus

Start watching
5LQmQJY-show-poster2x3-MRWBpAK.jpg

Reporter Roundup

Start watching
E5VnHdZ-show-poster2x3-PrXshoo.png

City Rising

Start watching
QraE2nW-show-poster2x3-uY3aHve.jpg

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

The Legend of Zongzi (Sticky Rice Wrapped in Bamboo Leaves)

 

If you've been in Chinatown or the San Gabriel Valley during the last week or so, you may have noticed, more than usual, the old ladies hawking small green parcels outside of Broadway's shops or around the parking lots of Chinese supermarkets. They're most likely selling homemade zongzi, or joong in Cantonese, for Duanwu Jie, the Dragon Boat Festival. The celebration falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar; this year's festivities are on June 20.

So what's the significance of eating zongzi, a complete meal of sticky rice stuffed with savory ingredients like Chinese sausage, preserved duck eggs, dried scallops, peanuts, chestnuts, mung bean, and pork belly wrapped in bamboo leaves?

There are different versions of the story, depending on the region in China. This is the way I've heard it: Qu Yuan, a prolific poet and a favorite adviser to the king of the state of Chu in ancient China, was betrayed by jealous courtiers. The king banished Qu Yuan, so he committed suicide by jumping into the river. When the king realized his tragic error against his most loyal subject, he ordered his people to throw the zongzi into the river, so that the fish would eat the rice parcels instead of Qu Yuan's body.

 

In some versions, he turned into a river spirit and as a sign of respect, locals would feed his spirit every year. Then sometime in the 5th or 6th century A.D., dragon boat races became a part of this eating festival (this weekend San Francisco will be holding their races at Treasure Island). However the story is told, it always ends with his grim death and appeasing something or someone with food.

It's another example of how food has always represented the literal body (which is why consuming frog legs is a common remedy for excruciating leg pain) for the Chinese, tying history (Qu Yuan's poems are in the canon of classical Chinese poetry) and mythology into food loaded with symbolism.

Though zongzi can be found throughout the year, they're especially plentiful at the moment. Your best bet on finding them is to visit Chinese supermarkets, dim sum parlors (note that it's different from the lotus leaf wrapped chicken and rice), or from the little old ladies carrying buckets or coolers outside of these establishments.

Support Provided By
Support Provided By
Read More
Two rows of colorfully lit Christmas trees at Hikari – A Festival of Lights at Tanaka Farms. | Sandi Hemmerlein

Six SoCal Holiday Lights Drive-Thrus and Drive-Bys for 2020

Haul out the holly and fill up the stockings. We need a little Christmas! Here are some of the best drive-thru holiday experiences in Southern California.
Ballona Lagoon “Lighthouse” Bridge | Sandi Hemmerlein

Where to Explore 5 of L.A.’s Great Footbridges

Here’s where to find five of L.A.’s most scenic bridge crossings — and why they’re fascinating destinations in their own right.
Malibu Wine Hikes take visitors through the Semler family’s Saddlerock Ranch vineyards | Sandi Hemmerlein

13 SoCal Open-Air Adventures That Are Off the Beaten Path

Looking for outdoor options beyond your local park or playground? Here’s a guide to going off the beaten path with some of the best open-air attractions SoCal has to offer.