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Apr 30, 2014 05:22 PM

ZONGZI aka CHINESE TAMALES SFBA Dish of the Month May 2014

Zongzi aka Joong aka Chinese Tamales are the May 2014 Dish of the Month!

The goal of Dish of the Month is to collectively try as many versions of zongzi as we can in the Bay Area. To keep things lively, focus on places where you have not eaten zongzi before and report back. Bring pictures!

This will be a good time to scope out zongzi before the Dragon Boat festival on June 2nd.

Some background:

Voting thread:

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  1. I'll also be interested if and where anybody finds Shanghai/Jiaxing style zongzi. These are usually stubby triangles with salty pork as the sole filling and rice that has been given a soy sauce bath before cooking.

    2 Replies
    1. re: soupçon

      wouldn't expect to find any but a major prospect may be the food kitchens in the ranch 99 and/or marina markets.

      thought i saw a shanghai one before(probably marina). if/when i see one will report back.

      1. re: soupçon

        Shanghai zongzi found at 99 Ranch El Cerrito. Cold case feafures a 2-fer pack. Also hot from the Steamer at the Deli.

        Please see photos. Prices listed. A lot of variations available.

        I did not purchase any, just the HK Version from Daimo, and that was a MONSTER! Maybe some Hounds can report back.

      2. More help, please.

        Have read posts on voting thread that speak to this dish. And read the Wiki link above.

        But still feel a bit at sea, would love still more description/context/pointers.

        2 Replies
          1. I like the versions at Oakland Ctown's Gum Wah. They make 3 varieties: peanut, red bean, yellow bean (Mung bean). All have several chunks of pork (shoulder?), lots of pork fat and a small salted egg yolk (hom don). I usually get the peanut, but had the red bean for the 1st time recently and liked it a lot. The red beans were al dente.

            Not as good as they used to be, nor as good as Orient Market's (now closed) or my Paw Paw's, but still good. The rice is chewy but not too sticky and they are quite large. One will fill you up a dinner time. It seems that they have them all/most of the time now instead of just around the Chinese holidays. Haven't tried any others in the vicinity.

            1 Reply
            1. re: chocolatetartguy

              Big +1 to the zongzi at Gum Wah (345 8th St) in Oakland! $2.25 apiece makes them a great deal, too!

            2. A Chinese friend of mine calls the savory ones her mom used to make "Doh". Is Doh used to refer to a subset if these?

              8 Replies
              1. re: Ridge

                In my family "dong" is how we refer to it, and yes, same thing.

                1. re: rubadubgdub

                  My friend pronounced it more like Doh. The ones her mom made were very good. They had water chestnuts, chopped up egg, mushrooms and Chinese sausage.

                  We like the ones at Koi palace and get them as takeout to take for weekday lunches. They reheat really well.

                  I want to try and make them sometime,

                2. re: Ridge

                  I thought that the Cantonese word was something like joong. When we were growing up my sister and I just called them rice stuff.

                  Besides the traditional steaming prep, we had them sliced and pan fried.

                  1. re: Ridge

                    Homemade is still the best. Best ratio of sticky rice: fillings. Best favorite fillings! Best taste.

                    1. re: Cynsa

                      My grandmother used to include huge, salty, mealy homemade hom don in hers. To me that is the key ingredient. I remember that the assembly line occupied her entire small kitchen. There was a huge double boiler involved and there were banana leaves hanging everywhere. Wish I had learned how to make make them b4 my mom forgot. At least I learned how to make her guy don cha, the best breakfast ever.

                      1. re: chocolatetartguy

                        AGREED!, but with Youtube, there is hope yet... My Grandma used to make Peranakan Bak Chang, and she commandeered the whole kitchen for days! She shooed our "amah" out, and joong hung on clotheslines. The filling was pork belly and candied winter melon. You can only find it in Singapore. Nothing compares. (...sorry!)

                        The recipe and technique is right there in Youtube, and one day, when I have all the time in the world, I will make thousands of Bak Chang to perfect the technique of sharp angles and dense glutinous rice, and invite y'all to a feast. In, Kian in NY said his neighbors thought the smell of steaming joong was marijuana. Luckily I have access to an outdoor kitchen so my neighbors will not call the cops on me.

                        1. re: NapaSpy

                          ...oops. sorry! Here is the proper link: I did not want anybody to think Kian suddenly went Communist.

                          BTW, did anybody notice that the portrait of Chairman Mao at Daimo was finally removed? Hard to feast and revel under his disapproving eye.

                        2. re: chocolatetartguy

                          An aunt was visiting and she told me that my Paw Paw use to make hom don from duck egg yolks. That made them larger and richer I assume.

                    2. Is the smaller version, wrapped in lotus leaf/no string/rectangular shape/no egg yolk also considered zongzi? These are usually available on dim sum menus, whereas the larger, banana leaf/tied with string/often with egg yolk item is found mostly at delis for take out. In any case, very nice version of the lotus leaf-wrapped version at Hong Kong Lounge II. Rice is more tender than sticky, filling-to-rice ratio perfect.

                      20 Replies
                      1. re: dordogne

                        I thought the lotus leaf version (not triangular) at dim sum is called something like lo mai gai. I think I have had the other by getting something at dim sum that was not lo mai gai. Had a lot of pork belly and other stuff that I was not expecting.

                        1. re: dordogne

                          This confused me to, so thanks for asking this question. See answer at:


                          1. re: dordogne

                            Yummy Yummy opens at 9 am at 758 Pacific.
                            Here's a pix of nuomiji wrapped in lotus leaf with sausage, dried shrimp, diced chicken - this morning. The sticky rice is seasoned lightly with soy sauce and it is generously filled with meats for a very tasty and satisfying breakfast. Two for $3.50
                            Is the nuomiji an acceptable subset of zongzi for this thread?

                            1. re: Cynsa

                              i think not. zongzi is made specially at a certain time of year to honor a chinese official/scholar who committed suicide by drowning to protest his emperor's policy.

                              the local populace made zongzi to throw in the water so the sea creatures would eat them instead of the official's body. (this is my understanding of why zongzi exists. my memory may be hazy).

                              1. re: Cynsa

                                I'd say no.

                                They're very different from each other than being made of sticky rice and being wrapped in a leaf. The texture of the rice is completely different due to the cooking methods.

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  I agree with you one is made from raw sweet rice with is cooked for hours in boiling (or near boiling) and the other is cooked rice and goodies reheated in a lotus leaf vs bamboo leaves. We have a month to enjoy the joong's since the holiday in the 5th month of the lunar calendar which the 6th month of our calendar.

                              2. re: dordogne

                                dordogne, I concur that this particular DOTM may cause at least a little head-scratching, given that the genre of leaf-wrapped, filled sticky rice packets has been so ubiquitous at Bay Area dim-sum houses all the years I've been patronizing those (which is since the 1970s) -- varying in size, varying quite considerably in fillings, with and without egg yolk, tie string, etc.

                                So not being an expert at zongzi per se, I'm hard pressed to say which ones qualify though I've had many over the years, at dim sum houses, that fit the descriptions here and on Wikipedia.

                                1. re: eatzalot

                                  Those lotus leaf-wrapped glutinous rice dumplings are not zongzi.
                                  Don't think zongzi is served in dim sum houses in SFBA but, hey, why not.

                                  1. re: klyeoh

                                    My concern remains that to nonexperts, people new to "zongzi" (not a term I remember seeing before in the Bay Area, or even on this board), hyperbowler's WP link's definition

                                    "glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo, reed, or other large flat leaves"

                                    certainly embraces some of what I've tasted over the years in dim sum houses around the Bay Area. Foods fitting that broad description have come wrapped with _various_ large flat leaves, and certainly a wide range of fillings or filling combinations from the list on Wikipedia. These may not be proper zongzi, but they're near relatives and could be easily mistaken, going by WP's broad wording cited at the start here.

                                    It's like the wild-mushroom identification issue. Some mushrooms (and dishes) are all but unmistakable, while others share enough attributes to be misidentified by the nonexpert who is following simple descriptions.

                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      Those dishes at dim sum houses are typically lo mai gai

                                      They are similar to joong/zongzi but not quite the same.

                                      1. re: Mr_Happy

                                        So a key defining feature of most zongzi is a tapered shape (triangular or conical profile) if I understand (due it seems to characteristics of the bamboo leaf, acc. to WP).

                                        Also just spotted hyperbowler's helpful link to earlier CH discussion on these specialties:

                                    2. re: klyeoh

                                      I did not think zongzi were served at Dim Sum houses either, but here is a Menu from Daimo, and as you can see, "Harm Yook Joong" (Savory Meat Joong) is listed here at the bottom of the Dim Sum Menu. $5.80 !!!

                                      Why not? It is DOTM! When it arrived, I could see why: It was a MONSTER! See second photo. I took it home and weighed it: 1 lb 3 oz. Grandma would faint. When she came around she would gasp: "Too coarse, totally lacking in finesse. America has ruined you!"

                                      Next photo shows the contents: Salted egg, lean pork belly, mung beans. That big lump of rice at the top would also draw Grandma's tongue clicking: "Cheating! No expertise/skill." Her joong was packed with goodies, and the rice was just a veneer. As you can see from the photo, it was falling apart from its sheer size. It had to be cut into slices, and the butcher twine was no help in slicing it either.

                                      Despite my bias toward Peranakan Bak Chang, it was quite delicious, but something to be shared as Dim Sum, and not consumed by one person.

                                      I would not order this again. Dim Sum is traditionally "little morsels of goodies to touch the heart", and this would fill the belly at the first bite. Too heavy on the scale of Opportunity Cost. However, if I were starving, this would be it!

                                      Please see next post as to different varieties of zongzi at 99 Ranch Market, El Cerrito. I never knew there were so many!

                                      1. re: NapaSpy

                                        How was the hom don? It looks the right color. Is that half of it or did they just include half. That other yellow stuff around it is the mung bean paste?

                                        1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                          There was definitely one whole yolk. The other half is in the portion above. Yes, and the bottom was mung bean. Not quite paste, as you can still see the grains.

                                          We should have a chow down to taste all the zongzi. Too much for one person!

                                          Soupcon, can you expound on Shanghai style, and KLYeoh, please tell us about the Cantonese version. I thought Kansui joong is the version you eat with sugar. KK, I want to hear about your thoughts on the Cantonese version too. From the Chinese characters, it appears that the Taiwanese version has pork and mushrooms.

                                          So much to eat! So much to enjoy! I'm ready!

                                          1. re: NapaSpy

                                            Attaching a stock photo of the one sold/served by Cooking Papa (appetizer/savory version). It appears to be steamed with the lotus leaf wrap, but unwrapped already when plated and delivered to your table. I had it once, and all I can say is that it re-inforces my dislike of Cantonese zongzi, although their in house made attempt is admirable. Again this is just a preference, despite my general love for Cantonese fare. But I do recall that the seasoned soy sauce did enhance the experience and is really crucial.

                                            Also decided to take one for the team (well it was actually a re-visit for me) to the mini van mom and pop business (selling Tainan style zongzi) I was talking about.

                                            Similar to traditional Cantonese, shaped and wrapped like a pyramid. The rice is glutinous, and has a house seasoned soy sauce/stock that engulfs most of the material (could be from the pork braise). The signature of this style is a lot of peanuts (a very particular variety) with the skin on. There are chunks of lean pork inside that are tender, but the gem is the shitake mushroom on top. This business also sells a peanut only version, and a vegetarian version that is also quite good. There is no salted egg yolk inside.

                                            This batch was a bit less intense overall in flavor than 2 years ago that I remembered, perhaps less salty which is good. Then again these are all home made, and finding anything fairly true to form Taiwanese is very very very difficult in Northern California these days, so it is an extremely commendable effort.

                                            Here's the appears that they also sell at Lynbrook High school (San Jose) on Fridays (didn't ask the time) and Sundays at Belmont Ralston Middle School (but you need to be there, best time between 11 am to noon, and noon is when the Sunday Tzu Chi Chinese school classes end). So maybe they will be there at most till 12:20 to 12:30 pm when there are no more prospective parents/customers.

                                            Prices seemed to have gone up. They prefer to sell in bundles of 10, and it used to be $22. Last Sunday the old man charge me $15 for 5. Inflation/rising cost of gas/materials/real estate yada yada... but definitely a zongzi that I very much enjoy.

                                            1. re: K K

                                              Thank you, KK! Regional variations are very interesting.

                                              Re that sign: I could not read the middle one. Meat, Vegetarian/Peanut... what is the other?

                                              Since these appear to be the Genuine Taiwanese zongzi, I shudder to think what you would say about the 99R specimens!

                                              1. re: NapaSpy

                                                1) Meat (pork) with mushroom and peanuts
                                                2) Vegetarian (mock meat/mock pork/wheat gluten) with mushroom and peanuts
                                                3) Vegetable (with peanuts). Not entirely clear on the this one.

                                                The van in question is an older Nissan, green/turquoise color. It's the 2nd car from the front. (Look for the van parked anywhere there is space)

                                              2. re: K K

                                                Your description sounds much more like what I grew up eating. In addition to the seasoned rice and the shitake mushroom, I always looked forward to eating the quail egg.

                                                1. re: K K

                                                  I've tried the one at Cooking Papa Foster City in the last year. I did not care for it. Our example was oversteamed, making the rice extra gluey, and the meats were cottony.

                                            2. re: NapaSpy

                                              Peranakan bak chang is also one of my faves - the ones from Malacca are traditionally tinted blue using the "bunga telang" flower (not done elsewhere).