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May 22, 2002 05:17 AM

Zhong Zi

  • m

Shep's post in the Dong Po pork thread reminded me that 'tis the season for these. Perhaps someone like Lambert can tell us the legend associated with them.

I had one for lunch today from Cheung Hing on Noriega in SF. Folded in a rectangular rather than pyramidal shape, it had half a salted duck egg, salt pork, and peanuts inside. Not bad for $1.80. They also make them with beans instead of peanuts.

I also like the ones from Eastern Bakery on Grant Ave. in SF Chinatown. They're bigger and priced accordingly.

Has anyone tried the ones that Yuet Lee has hanging on the walls? Where are your favorites?

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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  1. Well Melanie here is my very limited knowledge of Chinese history and spelling.

    A Minster of old China by the name of Wha En (my best Chinese spelling mostly likely not right) worte a notice requiring aciton from the King. This King was much more interest in wine, women and song. He would pay attention to his job. He only remark as long as you are here you can take care of it. So to prove his point Wha En drown himself. This shock the King that he pay attention to his Kingdom and life for again good for the common man.

    Once a year the Chinese wrap food in bamboo leaves to throw them into the ocean to both feed Wha En and the fish to stop them consume Wha En body.

    If someone else has a better story or the real facts I am really interested. This told to me by my mother.

    As for the ingredients I have a lot of debate on what is used in making the Zhong Zi. It depends on what part of China you come from. In Canton these are the agreed on ingredients for most of the area, salted duck egg yolks, salted side pork, chestnut fresh if possible and dried if not. Then the changes my wife comes from Toy Shan, she want peanuts, my family came from Chung Shan we add Ming beans.

    So here are the ingredients we use in our homemade Zhong Zi. Before you tell me that nobody can hold that large of Zhong Zi, we have design a wooden mold to hold the leaves so that we have both hands to work with. We use the following ingredients.

    Sweet rice
    Salted side pork
    Meng bean
    Dried Chestnut
    One whole duck egg
    Dried shrimp
    Dried baby scallops
    Shallots roughly chopped
    Lop Chong
    Shitake Mushroom

    After cooking they freeze well and we will be eating them for months. If you plan to make these stop buying the ingredient now while the selection is good. I have already purchase our.

    28 Replies
    1. re: Lambert Yim

      The story I heard on NPR last week, was that when people started inhabiting an island near Hong Kong many years ago, they inadvertently dug up the bones of people murdered and buried there by pirates. In order to placate the spirits of these victims they make buns and throw them into the ocean every year. They also build towers as high as 50 feet tall with the buns during the celebration.

      1. re: jaweino

        Um, I think maybe you are thinking of the Cheung Chau bun festival? That is a local festival that happened this last weekend. Everyone on the island fasts from eating meat for three days, so there are lots of veggie feasts during the holiday culminating in the bun distribution. They used to let people climb up the bun towers to snatch the buns, but they stopped that practice after a tower collapsed one year.

        What Melanie and Lambert are discussing is the Dragon Boat Festival, or Duan Wu Jie, which falls on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar year (June 25th this year, I believe). People eat zong zi, which are sort of sticky rice tamales in commemoration of the offerings that the people made to the official Qu Yuan who drowned himself in the Mi Lo River.

        1. re: chibi

          That is exactly right. I glad someone can tell the story right. My knowledge of Chinese history is surely lacking.

          1. re: Lambert Yim

            I think you pretty much had the whole story right. Although we didn't talk about the dragon boats - do they symbolize the people paddling out to save their hero? I also heard that the drumming was supposed to further deter the fish from eating his corpse.

            Anyway, it sounds as though your family really puts a lot of stuff in your zong zi! My family likes to use peanuts too, and braise our own fatty pork instead of using lop cheung. Sometimes we add dried oysters too.

            I haven't made any in ages, and I miss the days when all the neighbors would pass samples around so that all we ate for days were zong zi. Recently, I had a decent one at that Taiwanese restaurant 168 in the Richmond Pacific East Mall.

            1. re: chibi

              Thanks Lambert for the story one Dongpo Pork!
              I think Qu Yuan killed himself when his country (Chu) was conquered. I am not sure if it's by Qin, the empire who eventually put all china under control and built the Great Wall. He was a great poet (Chinese love to associate food with poets :)) who wasn't trusted by his king and sent into exile. He collected folk stories and wrote wonderful poems. I love his "nine songs".

              My mom makes the pyramid kind which looks like a little foot and puts only red beans or peanuts with the rice. Then you eat it after dipping into sugar. Or, you can fry the leftovers. Hummn, the fresh green leaves...

              1. re: tingting

                There's a version back home (don't know if it's perculiar to Singapore) that is made entirely of rice without any filling. One dips it in a palm sugar syrup when eating it.

                1. re: Limster

                  Yep, no fillings too. I used to think that the salty ones are from ZheJiang and sweet ones from SuZhou, WuXi. :) Obviously wrong! It's about what's available and creativity, I guess. :)

                  1. re: tingting

                    Well the best part of food and story handed down in Chinese homes is that the are not the same, but all are made with love and meets the needs of the inner man or woman as the case may be.

                  2. re: Limster

                    Is this Zhong a bronze color? If it is, then the rice has been mixed with a little bit of lye and some people put this tiny bit of spice(looks like a stick) in the middle for flavor or some people put red bean paste in the middle. (one of my favorite) You eat this version of zhong with a brown sugar syrup. If you go to HK Flower Lounge in Millbrae for Dim Sum, they have this zhong sometimes. Wonderful stuff! Margret

                    1. re: Margret

                      Yes it does have a bronzed color to it. Sounds like exactly like you described.

                      1. re: Margret

                        My grandmother used to make these sweet ones for us. I was known to indulge too heartily and the small amount of lye would take the coating off my tongue. The firmness that this treatment gives the rice though is a very unique textural sensation.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Hey Melanie, How do you take the coating off your tongue? Does it hurt? I am trying to imagine you as a kid with your tongue hanging out! :0) Margret

                          1. re: Margret

                            You bet it hurts! Remember, lye is a caustic agent. Usually only a small residual amount in the sweet zhong, but if you eat too many of them it does build up.

                            The other caustic Chinese food stuff is 1000 year old eggs. They're served with pickled scallions to neutralize some of it, plus most people don't eat enough at one sitting to hurt themselves. But I know of one friend who ate two by herself and suffered the consequences. She could only have milk for the next two days.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Boy, Melanie, you must have eaten ALOT of that sweet Zhong. Anyway, I don't know if I need to start a new thread but re: 1000 year old eggs. It was one of my favorite food...WAS. They used to make this stuff with Lye? and a straw covering and people were really concerned with lead being present somewhere in there. Then around 10 years? ago, these very neat looking eggs started to come on the market where they advertised the eggs as lead free. They have this thin wax coating and are in a styrofoan box of six. With all the media attention on chemicals processing of some chinese preserved foods, I am wondering what chemical processes are being used to make these "modern" 1000 year old eggs. Are they safe? Does anyone know? Nothing is better in porridge than these guys. Just a thought. Margret

                              1. re: Margret

                                Actually I think they've gone back to the original ancient process with no lead. I believe lead was used to speed up modern mass production. Now the ones sold here in the States say "No Lead" on the package thanks to the FDA. If you're still not sure perhaps make your own - it's fun and easy.

                                1. re: Louisa Chu

                                  You can make your own thousand yr old eggs? Do you have the recipe? I would love to try it, although I may be afraid to eat the result. :-)

                                  1. re: Margret

                                    Yes, you can make your own - and there's nothing to be afraid of! In fact I have more concerns about store-bought ones.

                                    My maternal grandmother grew up in the country so she was seriously into food from scratch. I don't remember her exact "recipe" but here's one I found from a Google search that sounds about right.

                                    I remember it being a really fun project with my grandmother - and eventually we got a really cool edible result.

                                    Link: http://www.recipesource.com/ethnic/as...

                                    1. re: Louisa Chu

                                      Thank you very much! I printed the recipe and if I make it, I will post and tell you how it turned out. I actually stand corrected since I thought it was lye in the eggs but it is actually lime instead. Thanks again. Margret

                                      1. re: Margret

                                        Lime + wood ashes is a recipe for making lye. I remember seeing these made with commercial lye (which would be of a standard strength) when I was a child but don't have a recipe.

                                2. re: Margret

                                  I'm not sure, but I would think that they're still "gelled" using lye. Lye can be used safely. However, there was some concern that the natural black clay used to coat them had lead or other unregulated substances in them. Yes, that blueish waxy coating is supposed to be lead free and also doesn't make such a mess in the kitchen to get at the egg.

                                  Young children love sugar! I have lost my sweet tooth over the years . . .

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    I won't touch any egg that's younger than 20,000 years old.

                        2. re: Limster

                          Hey, that's what I remember eating when I was a kid. It was just plain white/sticky rice, and you dip it in plain sugar. I thought it was because we were so poor we couldn't afford to put other stuff in there. But I do remember another kind with red bean paste also, which was more rare.

                          My family is from Shandong, so maybe it's the Northern style.

                          1. re: Limster

                            I remember both sweet and savory fillings from my childhood as well. I think the sweet kidns served as dessert while the savory as entree.

                            My grandmother used to make them, and once my mom tried, but all her filling spilled out. She didn't inherit any of my grandmother's cooking gene. I regred that I left Taiwan too early to have learned more secred of Taiwanese home cooking...

                          2. re: tingting

                            I posted my post before reading this one. It's nice to know that there are many people who will eat a savory dish with sugar. Margret

                            1. re: Margret
                              Shepherd B. Goode

                              "Sugar 'n' spice", ya know?

                              Equal parts salt, sugar, and a little cayenne is one of my lifelong favorite garnishes. Learned it from a Cuban guy who lived with my family and taught us some Cubano home cooking. I could see where it would add some zip to otherwise ungarnished white rice.

                              One of the true joys of living in the Bay is that so many people know so much about something I've never heard of, like Zhong Zhi--and have so many different takes on it. This place is great.

                              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/chowmarket/i...

                          3. re: chibi

                            What my understanding is that the drumming is scare the fish from eat the body of our hero. Thanks for the tip of the dried oysters. We just keep adding ingredients to the mix from taste the Zhong zi from other people.

                            It is also time to make them again.

                            1. re: chibi

                              Oh my god, someone else who likes dried oysters in their Zhong! My mother used to make these especially for me because no one else seems to want them. Since my mom passed away, I can't have them anymore. No one seems to make them this way. My favorite fillings are: Dried oysters, side pork(pork belly) with five spice powder, dried scallops or dried shrimp, lop cheung, and that salt egg yolk. By the way Lambert, when you said a whole salt duck egg, do you mean a whole salt duck egg yolk?

                              My husband will only eat zhong which are made with the mung beans (green beans without the bran)...he doesn't care what else is there but there must be mung beans. Then he eats the zhong with soy sauce and sugar. Ugg...but our son has taken on the same taste. Go figure! Margret

                              1. re: Margret

                                Sorry, I do mean a whole egg yolk. Many things when buy something you only get a part of the yolk. I am please that on a site like this we can share our information and improve our zhong zi. I will be trying oyster the next time.

                    2. I've found that the best zhongzi (and also suijiao aka water dumplings) come from people who make them out of their home. I'm not sure where to find these people but my family always seem to be discovering another source. I guess some people make them in their home kitchen and will deliver an order to you when you call. I have a feeling they're advertised in the Chinese newspapers and on the bulletin boards found at Chinese markets and other gathering places.

                      I'm sorry I don't know more details but my mom usually gives me a bundle to freeze when she orders. Anyone have firsthand experience with this?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Yvonne

                        Good point - on crowded Sunday mornings in Chinatown, there are old Chinese ladies selling these on the street. I assume they're not licensed. I've not tried their wares or kept track of who seems to be the most popular. This would be the time of year with the most selection to experiment.

                        I'll post soon on shui jiao.

                        Link: http://chowhound.safeshopper.com/23/c...

                      2. I am so enjoying reading about everyone's recollections and family traditions. I am sensing a collective nostalgia for our Ah-ma/Po-po/Grandma's zongzi. Perhaps some year when our commemoration of Limster's passing does not coincide with Qu Yuan's (g), we could get together and try to make some. It would be wonderful to learn how to recreate those tastes and shapes. I have recipes, but those do not stop the filling from falling out of the leaves :)

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: chibi

                          That's a cool idea. Although I never made one myself, I will probably ended up buying some to contribute.

                          Maybe a tasting competition of who got the best !

                          1. re: chibi

                            That is why we made a mold to hold more leaves and hold more rice and goodies.

                            Maybe we can have one more LimsterFest event. If he is still around and willing he can be the judge for which homemade and store bought is the best.

                          2. s
                            Stanley Stephan

                            Ok, so I stop by Eastern Bakery on Grant Ave. in SF Chinatown to try one of these. I'm thinking rice, triangle shape. Don't see anything. So I try asking for them my version rhymes with song gee only with a z...zong zee. Wrong?

                            Blank stares. So I describe it sticky rice, triangular shape and the lady who's waiting on me points to the counter and says Dim Sum?

                            Not to be outdone, I had this written down - zhong zi. More blank stares.

                            I was about to launch into the story of Qu Yuan (I just think flashing my Chow passport would have just added to everyone's amusement) when someone pointed to a plate labeled "Chinese tamales". So did I get the right thing?

                            I did persist and asked 3 or 4 times what these were called in Chinese and is sort of sounded like Joong. I wasn't clear reading the tamale post if that was the same thing. Also, reading through the posts, it seems these are also called bak chang or shui jiao. True?

                            If everything in the Chinses Tamale picture in the below link Zhong Zi?

                            Is sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, ti or bamboo leaves Zhong Zi?

                            Finally, these seem to be the sources in SF for good Zhong Zi besides the three mentioned in the first post:
                            - little old ladies selling them on the qt in Chinatown on Sunday.
                            - Taiwanese restaurant 168 in the Richmond Pacific East Mall
                            - HK Flower Lounge in Millbrae (sometimes)

                            I enjoyed everyone's memories and the history behind this.

                            My tamale is sitting in a pink bag in the fridge. Do I eat it cold or warm it up?

                            Link: http://www.makansutra.com/Makanzine/J...

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: Stanley Stephan

                              Bravo! Your post left me in awe of your adventurous tenacity, and giggling hysterically to boot.

                              Yes, I believe you have the right thing. What we've all been chattering away about is a dumpling made of glutinous rice, stuffed with either sweet or savory filling, then wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed. As is evident from this thread, variations abound.
                              Shui jiao is a different thing altogether, with a wrapper made with flour, much like pelmeni. I am not familiar with the term bak chang - but I presume that website is Singaporean so perhaps someone like Limster could elucidate. (And if they could explain what "die die" means I would be grateful too).

                              You absolutely must eat that thing hot. You can microwave it (although my mother thinks that's a filthy habit only practiced by my unprincipled generation). Better to steam it over boiling water, then unwrap (carefully) and eat with condiment of your choosing (several opinions have been expressed in the course of this post, but soysauce and sriracha for me). I'm assuming you got a savory one.

                              One final thing - eat slowly. Zongzi are really filling.

                              1. re: chibi
                                Caitlin McGrath

                                My SO's family (who are Chinese-American) do refer to them as "Chinese tamales."

                                1. re: chibi
                                  Stanley Stephan

                                  Thank you. Don't tell your mother but I microwaved it. Adding soy sauce only improved the flavor. I like that sticky rice and can imagine that it would go great with alot of different fillings. I had some sort of sausage, pork and peanuts. I really is very satisfying.

                                  I think I'd like a sweet filling as well. In Mexico, they also have sweet fillings for tamales which are excellent. Had some fresh peach and strawberry tamales once.

                                  I'll probably make everyone Asian go ick, but I like rice pudding. A few raisins, a little sticky rice, some cinnamon...wrap it in a lotus leaf...

                                  1. re: Stanley Stephan

                                    I'm glad you enjoyed it. You can keep a couple in the freezer for the next time the urge strikes you.

                                    "zh" is pronounced like "j".

                                    1. re: Stanley Stephan

                                      "I'll probably make everyone Asian go ick, but I like rice pudding."

                                      Have you ever tried the classic Thai dessert, Mango Sticky Rice? Warm coconut cream glutinous rice with fresh mango.

                                      You may never eat regular rice pudding again.

                                  2. re: Stanley Stephan

                                    "So I try asking for them my version rhymes with song gee only with a z...zong zee. Wrong?"

                                    Close. Chinese inflections are hard, especially out of context. In Mandarin it's more like "dzoong dzz". Cantonese "joong jzee".

                                    "So I describe it sticky rice, triangular shape and the lady who's waiting on me points to the counter and says Dim Sum?"

                                    There is a classic dim sum dish that's similar - "lo mai gai" or "noh mai gai" - lotus leaf wrapper, sticky rice, various savoury fillings like chicken, Chinese sausage, shitake mushrooms, and egg yolk.

                                    "Also, reading through the posts, it seems these are also called bak chang or shui jiao. True?"

                                    Yes, to the former in Singapore. No, to the latter, which is a totally different kind of dumpling. See the link below for a photo - incredible food photos by the way.

                                    "If everything in the Chinses Tamale picture in the below link Zhong Zi?"

                                    Looks like it.

                                    "Is sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, ti or bamboo leaves Zhong Zi?"

                                    Usually bamboo leaf.

                                    "Do I eat it cold or warm it up?"

                                    Warm as you know now. I think they're more like fresh made when they're steamed. Otherwise if you microwave them try wrapping them in a damp paper towel.

                                    Again very well done. Inflections are hard. Depending on the intonation "joong" can also mean "clock" or "to swell". Guess you're lucky you didn't get a swollen clock.

                                    Link: http://www.chinatips.net/english/cult...

                                    1. re: Louisa Chu

                                      bak chang is the hokkien pronunciation for meat zhong. Hokkien "chang" = Mandarin "zhong" - same character. I've only heard the term used in Singapore, but might also be used in other locations with sizable hokkien populations. Has anyone from Taiwan heard the same term? (Taiwanese is essentially the same as Hokkien.)

                                      1. re: LImster

                                        It's pronouced the same way in Taiwanese. I've never learned pinyin for Taiwanese but it's pronouced like ba zang, as close as I can approximate.

                                  3. "Zhong Zi" didn't ring any bells for me until I started reading the post. Soon enough I realized it was "Machang" back home. It sounds a lot like "bak chang", which may be what it is called in Singapore. Most of the Chinese in the Philippines and Singapore are descended from immigrants from Fookien, or the surrounding areas, so some words are similar.

                                    It's great stuff, and one of the best packed lunches I can imagine, if you have access to a microwave. A hefty pyramid of sticky rice flavored with stewed pork belly, sweet Chinese sausage, chicken, dried shrimp, shiitake mushroom, salted egg, chestnuts. . .

                                    Southeast Asia has many versions of sticky rice wrapped in leaves, some savory, some sweet, some cooked with coconut milk, others simply steamed. I've had a slender tube of rice with ground dried shrimp, chili, shallots rolled in the middle. And an improbably toothsome cylinder of naturally deep purple rice served with shredded coconut, palm sugar, and grated cheese. And there are many more versions. I wish we could collect a variety of these Asian delights and make a Chowhound feast of them