Thu, Jun 06, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Battle of the zongzi

As Dragon Boat Festival rears its head, this regional guide to Taiwan’s zongzi lays out the basics

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Huzhou zongzi are also called waishengzong (外省粽) because of their association with later arrivals who came to Taiwan after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) retreated from China in 1949. But that distinction is quickly breaking down, as Huzhou zongzi become an integral part of Taiwan’s food landscape.

Case in point: Nanmen Market’s Li Family Huzhou Zong (立家湖州粽), which has claimed first place in several rankings of the country’s best, is run by a Hakka chef from Nantou County.

HAKKA

In Hakka banzong (粄粽), the rice grains are replaced with a wickedly sticky dough made of glutinous rice flour. Fillings are distinguished by the use of dried radish and dried tofu.

While banzong are easier to find in the counties with large Hakka populations, Taipei’s city-dwellers can score them from Fan Grandma’s Hakka Food (范媽客食), which delivers and sets up shop at the Hakka Cultural Park (客家文化主題公園) every weekend.

ALKALINE

Jianzong (鹼粽), also called jingzong (粳粽), are a Cantonese style of zongzi made from glutinous rice that has been soaked in alkaline water. The alkaline environment accelerates the rate of starch gelatinization — in layperson’s terms, a process in which starch molecules in the rice swell, break down and take up water.

This preparation yields a translucent, amber grain that is particularly soft and chewy. Jianzong are exclusively eaten sweet, often filled with red bean paste, or else plain with sugar or syrup to dip.

‘SNOW SKIN’

While jianzong are becoming increasingly hard to find, another dessert contender is just getting started. “Snow skin” (冰皮) zongzi are a crossover from “snow skin” mooncakes, with their defining feature being a translucent outer layer made of glutinous rice flour.

The novelty of “snow skin” zongzi lends itself to the most whimsical flavors yet. This year, I-Mei Foods (義美) has developed a frozen zongzi with milk tea filling, based on its popular beverage.

ABORIGINAL

The Paiwan, Rukai, Puyuma and Amis communities make a leaf-wrapped pork dumpling called abai (阿拜).

This dumpling has no connection to the Dragon Boat Festival, although abai are traditionally served on celebratory occasions and to welcome distinguished guests. Instead of glutinous rice, they are made with yellow foxtail millet wrapped first in a herb that is eaten with the dumpling, and then in an outer layer of shell ginger leaf (月桃葉).

Like Aboriginal cuisine on the whole, abai is elusive unless a special excursion is made to the source in an Aboriginal community. But it’s a leading example of the diversity of zongzi, reflecting the diverse cultures and histories of Taiwan’s people.

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