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Trying to find the best ready-made Chinese 'zongzi' (粽子) to take home... Where to go buy?

I must admit, I had trepidations about starting this thread so soon after the recent ruinous "XLB vs. soup dumpling" war, for fears it might incite another Chinese food nomenclature battle...

But after I bought a really awful batch of Chinese zongzi (粽子) yesterday, I said to myself, "Screw it, I needs to ask my fellow Hounds." So here goes:

For the uninitiated, a bit of background info: Zongzi (the Wikipedia-designated term for this food item, for lack of a better vernacular phrase in common usage) are yummy clumps (or pseudo-balls) of packed steamed glutinous rice, either savory or sweet fillings & ingredients (salted pork, peanuts, or sweet red bean paste, for example), wrapped on the outside by bamboo or reed leaves. They are commonly sold, ready-made, at many various outlets in the San Gabriel Valley. They heat up quickly and can be enjoyed after the unwrapping of the leaves, thereby exposing the delicious core.

For years, I've been buying my zongzi mostly from the 99 Ranch Market's ready-made food section. It was always decent in authenticity & taste, but never spectacular. However, I never questioned it, instead thinking myself so blessed to even find this stuff in America for sale. Yesterday, I made my usual purchase of a bag of 3 zongzi, brought it home, heated one up, unwrapped it, and...

It sucked. I mean it was truly, truly terrible. The rice lacked any taste at all, the ingredients were unchopped, and the whole darn thing was essentially flavorless.

I could only surmise that this means the production of these zongzi has been outsourced by 99 Ranch Market to, well, not China, that's for sure (since it'd be much tastier if that was the case).

Bottom line: I need a new place to procure my ready-made zongzi to-go. Tasty, well-made ones (savory and sweet), please. I've had some success with the zongzi to-go at SinBaLa in the past. Any other places worth trying?

As always, Thanks in advance!

J.L.

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  1. I've only had the veggie one myself, but my mother-in-law usually gets them at I Fu Tang (in the Shun Fa / SG Superstore plaza).

    1. I used to buy from Mei Lin Tou Chiang. But since they have already closed, switched to Si Hai on Las Tunas.

      I buy the pork and mushroom kind. They also have the one with peanut and egg, if I am not mistaken.

      Can't complain too much since it satisfies my craving and don't want to buy from grocery's frozen section.

      1. I usually buy them from a shanghainese restaurant or Sinbala

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        Sinbala
        651 W Duarte Rd Ste F, Arcadia, CA 91007

        1. Come over to my house. We've got a garage freezer full of them.

          But I digress and no doubt violate the Chowhound Terms of Use.

          In any event, here are options to try, in no particular order, as I find that preferences in 粽子 vary widely.

          Four Seas (Si Hai)
          Cathy's Bakery
          I Fu Tang
          Yi Mei (Rowland Heights)
          Huge Tree Pastry
          Lu's Garden

          Generally, stick to Taiwanese places and you can't go wrong.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            Which of those places do Tainan style "ba zhang"? That stuff is the shiznit. Lean pork, layered fatty pork, mushrooms, shallots, well seasoned sticky rice, dried shrimps, and dried fermented turnips 蘿蔔乾 which is vital to make it complete.

            1. re: K K

              None, by now probably.

              The Dragon Boat Festive (or 端午節) was more than a month ago (June 6). Places that make them to order usu. don't stock specialty ones that require lots of ingredients and prep time. If you find them now, they're pretty basic fillings (e.g. fatty pork, peanuts, 'shrooms)

          2. Thanks for the leads, everyone!

            1. Many restaurants will sell them. I even had one from Dean Sin World about a month ago.

              1. Huge Tree has really nice ones. Pork + salted egg.

                J.L., have you tried the Vietnamese version? Banh chung? Sticky rice block filled with mung bean and possibly peppered salted pork belly, wrapped in a banana leaf? Pretty much the most stick-to-your-ribs thing I've had. They show up at a lot of the Viet delis in the SGV and Little Saigon; the banh mi shops typically have them.

                When I was growing up, my favorite Viet breakfast ever was a banh chung, smashed down in a large pan and very slowly pan fried until it was crispy brown on both sides, with molten mung-bean pork-fat chunks throughout, the pork fat seeping out and helping fry everything, and sometimes hitting the side and getting fried into something like Viet carnitas.

                It's the same thought, I think, as leftover risotto pancakes - something about glutinous rice/risotto rice refries extraordinarily well leftover... gets that super-crisp shell, ultra-melty innards thing...

                3 Replies
                1. re: Thi N.

                  Hey, that sounds great. Glutinous rice is just about the heartiest starch in the Asian repertoire.

                  Do they sell bahn chung at Bahn Mi Che Cali? BTW, I'm not fluent in Vietnamese; will that be a problem in ordering?

                  1. re: J.L.

                    Yes they do. At least the one in Westminster does. Just FYI, the Vietnamese version is cylinder shaped and I think the color of the string indicates the type of filling. I think.

                    They also have a cone shaped thing filled with shrimp, pork, quail egg, mushrooms, topped with rice flour, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. Kinda like a spin off zongzi. Also very good breakfast fare.

                    1. re: J.L.

                      If you get the viet version (which as the previous poster said is cylindrical) you can just cut thick 1/2 inch slices of it, wrapper and all, kind of like a sausage. Then, remove the wrapper off the slice you cut off, and pan fry on both sides on medium-low heat until crispy. Cover the cut-end of the remaining cylinder with plastic wrap. That's how my family always did it, and it is indeed the best way to enjoy it.

                  2. Shot in the dark.. But are there any worth recommending in the South Bay?

                    1. I've been wrestling with replying to this post because I fear endangering my own supply. Most versions out there are undercooked and just inedible.

                      The best version I have found is at Dean Sin World. It's Shanghainese style, with rice and meat only. But like everything else at Dean Sin World, the components are are flavorful and cooked to perfection. The generous meat filling is tender and flavorful with just the right amount of fat that melts and blends into the rice. The rice is cooked through and has this smokey flavor that I can't quite identify but it's delicious. After loading up last weekend and having just finished the last one a few days ago, I felt sufficiently guilty enough to finally reply.

                      Now I'll be fighting you and that septuagenarian who always buys in bulk. Try to save some for me eh JL? They are usually available on the weekends...for now.

                      -----
                      Dean Sin World
                      306 N Garfield Ave # 2, Monterey Park, CA

                      25 Replies
                      1. re: Porthos

                        Thanks for your frank response, Porthos. Don't worry: I only buy 2 or 3 at a time anyways. On Las Tunas, Si Hai's version is decent, and Cathy's Bakery next door also has pretty good zongzi.

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                        Cathy's Bakery
                        708 E Las Tunas Dr, C San Gabriel, CA

                        1. re: Porthos

                          When you say rice and meat only, do you literally just mean nice fatty pork with rice? No mushrooms, peanuts, or dried shrimp?

                            1. re: Porthos

                              I prefer peanuts/mushrooms in mine but I ought to give it a try next time I pick up frozen dumplings.

                          1. re: Porthos

                            They should be slightly undercooked. That way when you reheat them they are perfectly cooked.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Hmmm, I meant undercooked as the rice is still hard and needs another hour of boil time undercooked

                              1. re: Porthos

                                Zongzi are made by steaming, not boiling.

                                That said, the rice should not be undercooked, or hard.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Gasp! Can it be true? Ipse is actually mistaken about Chinese food for once?!! :)

                                  Zongzi cook more quickly boiled. After they are made, they are often reheated by steaming (or microwave). In fact, I have never heard of zongzi being steamed until you mentioned it (for the initial cooking process, not the reheating process). An internet search will show that steaming *can* be employed to cook them initially but steaming also takes longer. Boiling is often used.

                                  Try to ignore the word "dumpling":

                                  http://chinesefood.about.com/od/foodf...

                                  http://redcook.net/2009/05/27/zongzi-...

                                  1. re: Porthos

                                    When my mother used to make zongzi, she often cooked it in what I would think of as a half boil, where a shallow pool is made at the bottom of the pot and the zongzi set inside to steam/boil. I don't ever remember them being fully submerged in boiling water. But it's been years...

                                    1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                                      I'm not saying each family doesn't have their own techniques or recipes. I'm just saying boiling is frequently used. The advantage of boiling (and see above links that make note of taking care to keep them submerged) is that it ensures more even and faster cooking.

                                      1. re: Porthos

                                        Oh I understand. Just thought I'd throw my perspective in the mix...

                                    2. re: Porthos

                                      We steamed them. Even when we sold them at our store, we steamed. It makes for a better zongzi. Trust me on this.

                                      This link is almost exactly how we made it:
                                      Part 1: http://travelswithsandy.wordpress.com...
                                      Part 2: http://travelswithsandy.wordpress.com...

                                      Another link that instructs you to steam. http://eatingchina.com/recipes/zongzi...

                                      The problem with boiling it initially, is that submersing it in water for such an extended period time alters the viscosity and integrity of the sticky rice. Not a good thing.

                                      Reheating by boiling is ok b/c you're not submerging them in water for so long.

                                      You wanna be lazy? Boil away.

                                      You wanna do it right? Steam.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        From your own eatingchina.com link:

                                        "*People in southern Taiwan prefer to fry the rice after soaking it. They also boil rather than steam zongzi."

                                        I doubt you could say one way or another is the "right" way. It would be like saying one Italian grandmother makes tomato sauce the "right way" and the other doesn't.

                                        1. re: Porthos

                                          The ones from Southern Taiwan are "jian zongzi" and not the ones we are talking about that are more typical Shanghainese style. Once you've either parboiled or cooked the rice, then it's almost necessary to boil the zongzi; steaming just won't do.

                                          Honestly, if you ever have the chance to make the kind of zongzi you like (e.g. with fatty pork, 'shrooms, peanuts, etc.) make one that's boiled and one steamed and do a taste test.

                                          Sort of like steaks.

                                          You can cook a steak in the oven just like you can on the grill. You can bake a steak, but should you?

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            Great analogy. Peter Luger cooks their steak in an oven. I prefer Peter Luger.

                                            Plenty of Taiwanese grandmothers and friends boil their zongzi. The difference is in the filling and shape. Shanghainese style doesn't contain peanuts or mushrooms. Not sure what you mean by jian zongzi. I'm sure it's baited, but I'll bite.

                                            1. re: Porthos

                                              假粽子

                                              They have no fillings, and are essentially stick rice with rice flour. Sometimes a bit cornstarch and/or sugar is added.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                Ah, not true. Southern Taiwanese zongzi are not all jian zongzi (are those the sweet ones, or at least the ones you dip in sugar water?). As your link pointed out, Southern Taiwan zongzi contain all the standard ingredients including peanuts, pork fat, and mushrooms with the difference of stir frying the rice first and is boiled instead of steamed.

                                                Your knowledge of Chinese cuisine is impressive and extensive and well respected. However, rarely I think your experiences and views represent the particular region of China that your family is from and is not necessarily universal to Taiwan or other regions of China (eg. jian jiao vs guotie, and in this case, steamed vs boiled zongzi)

                                                As my links and even your links have proved, zongzi is often boiled and is not always steamed. Which is all that we were trying to determine...not which method is better, or lazy, or the way one's family does it, as that is all subjective and personal preference.

                                                1. re: Porthos

                                                  Time we get together and break some zongzi together my friend.

                                                  Talk to you later.

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                    I'm definitely in for a blinded zongzi tasting...

                                                    ...make it interesting with an attempted wine pairing?

                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                      Can I be invited as the impartial jury?

                                                      1. re: J.L.

                                                        Done. But you have to bring jamón ibérico de bellota. Just kidding...not really...

                                                        1. re: Porthos

                                                          You could make it a *really* interesting contest if you throw in some "dumplings."

                                                          1. re: raytamsgv

                                                            If "dumplings" is involved, then I think we'd need an octagon...

                                                            Two hounds enter, one hound leaves...

                                                            1. re: J.L.

                                                              I'll be asleep from eating too much. I'm a glutton, not a fighter...

                              2. The big Chinese grocery store on N. Atlantic in Monterey Park near Ocean Star has pretty good Shanghai style zongzi to go. The concessionaire for dry foods at the front of the store is where they can be purchased. They have mushroom zongzi and pork belly zongzi.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: poggibonzzi

                                  Rolling Wok, that Taiwanese owned dump of a (tasty, and hella cheap) steamtable joint, sells "Taiwan" style zongzi. So it says, I think (driving too fast) Someone go buy some. And ask them if they steam.

                                  -----
                                  Rolling Wok
                                  1609 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                                  1. re: TonyC

                                    Do people know that Rolling Wok donates the boxed lunches for the senior community centers for Temple City, San Gabriel and (I believe) Arcadia?

                                    I know their quality isn't exactly even up to the standards of Shau Mei, but given their prices and quantity of food they give you on those school-cafeteria plates, and the fact that they are donating something like 200+ boxed lunches almost daily, I wonder where their profit margins come from.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Did NOT know that. Thanks ips.

                                      They don't have half the business of Oriental Express, but he is so very proud of his smoked chicken, claiming it the best for nearly 20 years. It's so incredibly dumpy that every member of the family refuses to visit, much less sit inside, leaving me the sole supporter.

                                      I find a certain charm in all this, and hope he, like Lee's Garden, survives.

                                      -----
                                      Lee's Garden
                                      1428 S Atlantic Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91803