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In Hong Kong, the zongzi — along with the Dragon Boat Races — is the star of the show at the Dragon Boat Festival. Whether made from scratch at home or bought ready-made, these glutinous rice dumplings are traditionally wrapped in bamboo leaves, then steamed or boiled before eating. They come with a variety of fillings to suit all tastes and palates — read on to see what kinds of zongzi you can enjoy, and where to find them in Hong Kong.
Chinese zongzi can be broadly categorised into southern and northern preparation styles, although there are many more regional varieties to consider. Southern Chinese-style zongzi tend to be pyramid- or pillow-shaped and are stuffed with savoury ingredients, including salted egg yolk, pork, shiitake mushrooms, mung beans, taro, shredded chicken, and Chinese sausage. Their northern cousins, on the other hand, are shaped as elongated cones instead of tetrahedron parcels, with sweet, dessert-like ingredients.
In Hong Kong, the most common version of zongzi is the Cantonese style. It comes with a rich, decadent filling of marinated pork belly or duck, mushrooms, dried scallops and salted egg yolk.
Bite into the Chiuchow zongzi, a derivative of the Cantonese version, and you’ll taste the red beans, brined pork belly, chestnuts, mushrooms and dried shrimp for a sweet-savoury flavour balance.
While most other southern Chinese zongzi are served hot, the unique Hakka version, packed with shallot, dried mushrooms, dried baby shrimps and minced pork, is usually eaten cold.
Glutinous rice is the usual base for zongzi recipes, but this northern Chinese-style dumpling does things slightly differently. Filled with red dates and red bean paste and consumed cold, the Beijing style sometimes uses millet instead.
Also in the north, in and around Shanghai, the glutinous rice for zongzi is marinated in both light and dark soy sauces for more intense flavour and colour. Sweet zongzi typically contain red bean paste, while savoury zongzi come with salted ham and pork.
Don’t be fooled by the scientific-sounding name. The yellow-coloured alkaline rice dumplings, or jianshui zongzi, are actually made with food-grade lye water, and served plain dipped in white sugar or honey for a finishing touch. You may also come across jianshui zongzi with a red bean paste or lotus bean paste filling.
Plenty of restaurants, shops and hotels in Hong Kong prepare these festive dumplings for the holiday, served ready-to-eat or pre-wrapped. Try them for yourself at the following places.
Local shops like Old San Yang in Causeway Bay have stood the test of time; this is also one of the only places in Hong Kong where you can find Jia Hu rice dumplings, a Shanghainese variety. Old San Yang sells a purple rice and red bean rice dumpling with a pleasant chewy texture.
Shanghai-style zongzi with a ham and egg yolk filling are the speciality of Xia Fei Fei, while long-standing Cheong Fat Coconut prepares a home-style salted meat version with salted egg yolk, braised pork and either mung beans, mixed beans or peanuts.
Notable hotels around Hong Kong — such as JW Marriott Hong Kong and Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong — prepare seasonal zongzi every year; these tend to be traditional sweet and savoury iterations, filled with premium ingredients sourced from around the world. This year, the Shangri-La Hotel has introduced two innovative types of zongzi — one with 60-year-old dried tangerine peel and red bean filling, and the other with premium ingredients like Iberico ham, fish maw, abalone, and scallops, offering a unique and delicious experience. While Conrad Hong Kong sticks to the books with a deluxe pork belly and roasted duck dumpling and mashed lotus seed paste dumpling for dessert. Classic zongzi is what you can expect at Regal Hotels, embellished with whole abalone, conpoy, and Chinese ham.
If you’re looking to push the boat out, so to speak, and explore novel zongzi creations, there’s Chilli Fagara’s seasonal zongzi with a twist of spicy mala seasoning. Sichuan cured meat, pork, mixed beans and salted egg yolk are dressed in spices for a fiery kick, and can be enjoyed with the restaurant’s signature sauces, made from Sichuan peppercorn oil or hand-picked red chillies.
Green Common is well known for its annual collection of vegetarian-friendly rice dumplings, which use plant-based ingredients and mock meats to cater to an alternative diet. Past zongzi flavours have included creative fillings of porcini and vegan salted egg and OmniPork with quinoa.
Are you ready to celebrate the traditional Chinese festival? Here’s all you need to know about the Dragon Boat Festival.