If you’ve ever learned anything about Chinese New Year, I’m guessing you were told that Chinese families gather together at Spring Festival to bao jiaozi (stuff dumplings.) While that seems to be true in much of China, it isn’t so here in Zhuangland.
Here, it’s all about the zongzi.
Zongzi are essentially Chinese tamales. (Or, tamales are Latin American zongzi. I’ll let the culinary historians figure that one out.) Instead of corn husks, it’s bamboo leaves; instead of corn masa, it’s sticky rice. The filling is normally fatty pork and mashed beans, but there’s a big variety of possibilities.
After you’ve prepared a giant amount of them with your family, you gather these items:
- a massive metal pot (with anything that will serve as a lid)
- newspaper to cover the outside of the pot (so that the pot doesn’t get quite as blackened)
- a pile of bricks, broken chunks of concrete, a metal ring, or anything like that to put the fire in, and the pot on
- a pile of wood (this can be random old chairs that you break apart during the cooking process)
- a bucket of water (to pour in the pot; let’s hope it’s also for fire emergencies)
- someone with a lot of patience (or someone who desperately wants a good excuse to NOT be in the house with the rest of the relations right now)
- a chair or stool, ‘cuz it’s gonna be a while
- optional: slabs of pork and links of sausage to hang above the wood fire to be smoked
Next, you’re going to use your electric scooter or multiple relatives to drag all the stuff plus your heap o’ zongzi to a good location, such as:
The volleyball court
The edge of the sidewalk
The middle of the sidewalk
A grassy area
In front of your store
One exception: Our xiao qu posted a notice letting everyone know that cooking zongzi on the roof of the buildings was not permitted.
But, other than the rooftops, these pots and their longsuffering attendants are E V E R Y W H E R E. There seems to be a smokin’ pot in every alley and on every sidewalk. (See, that’s the kind of pot I meant. Did you think we were in Oregon?)
Anyway, you find yourself a good spot, you light the fire, and you sit there for hours. And hours. And hours. Nothing will stop you.
So you might as well get yourself a tent or umbrella to be comfortable.
Zongzi around here are not the tiny little pyramids you may have seen for Duan Wu Jie (Dragon Boat Festival). Nope, these guys are huge, like a jin (500g) each.
Those pots can hold about 40-50 of these super-sized zongzi, though I think most families might only do 20 or 30 for New Year’s. Still, that’s enough to mean they’ll be eating them for days. Served whole the first couple of times, but then maybe sliced and fried the next few times. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Meal after meal “until you never want to eat zongzi again,” one friend told me.
That feeling must wear off, though, because every year for Spring Festival, they’re out here steaming them again, and talking about how good they’re gonna taste.
Well, the first few times anyway.