Joong (Zongzi)


Photo No. 1a — Joong (Zongzi)

The smell of sweet, glutinous rice cooked in bamboo leaves has been implanted in my memory since childhood. This smell permeates Chinese households in the spring, during the Dragon Boat Festival, which takes place on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month (late May to early June). Since the festival is celebrated throughout Asia, these glutinous rice treats, known as joong in Cantonese, are made with many variations in shape and flavor. The shape favored by our family is an elongated pentahedron that looks like a stretched-out pyramid. It takes practice to achieve this shape. Fortunately, some enterprising person in Honolulu has created a stainless steel mold (see Photo No. 2a).

Joong can be sweet or savory. Our family likes the savory ones, filled with succulent pork belly, salted duck eggs, mung beans, and chestnuts. Other savory ingredients commonly found in joong are roast pork, Chinese sausage, dried scallops, dried shrimp, peanuts, and black mushrooms.

Joong are made in large batches, and joong-making is a group activity. The cooked joong are then shared with family, neighbors, and friends.

Joong-making requires pre-planning, starting with the preparation of salted duck eggs 30-45 days earlier. While the eggs are brining, stock up on the other ingredients and supplies. Remember that lots of people are making joong at the same time of the year, so you don’t want to be disappointed and find that your local market has run out of a key item.

Also known as: Chinese tamales, zung, zongzi

Ingredient Per joong Per 12 joong
bamboo leaves 4-5 48-60
salted eggs 1 12
sweet (glutinous) rice 1/4 pound dry rice or 1 cup soaked 3 pounds
pork belly 2 1-ounce pieces 1-1/4 pounds
mung beans 1 tablespoon 6 ounces
chestnuts (not water chestnuts) 3 36
salt, baking soda, string, vegetable oil, five-spice powder

Photo No. 1b — Joong (Zongzi)

30-45 days before

Salted eggs can be purchased at Asian food markets, but I prefer to brine my own. Duck egg yolks are large and have a very rich flavor, but chicken eggs will also work for this recipe. I buy duck eggs from a vendor at our local farmers market, and the chicken eggs I use are jumbo brown free-range ones from Trader Joes. See my post on salted eggs for instructions on how to brine.

1 day before

Salted eggs — Shell the salted eggs, discard the white, and check that all the yokes are okay. They should be firm and bright orange or red. Store the yolks, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Bamboo leaves — You’ll need 4-5 bamboo leaves for each joong. Thoroughly inspect each leaf and discard any that are torn. Cut off about a half-inch to one inch from the stem end (the hard stems can puncture the leaves). Place the leaves and 3/4 teaspoon baking soda in a pot of boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Rinse the leaves, then soak in cold water overnight.

Glutinous rice — Using a sieve, rinse the rice under a cold water tap until the water runs clear. You may need to do this in several batches. Soak the rice in cold water overnight.

Pork belly — Cut the pork into approximately 1-ounce pieces. Each piece should have some fat, some lean meat, and some rind (skin). Add 2 teaspoons of salt for each pound of pork. Sprinkle five-spice powder on all surfaces of the meat. Mix well and marinate overnight.

Chestnuts — Soak in water overnight.

Assemble and Cook

Carefully drain the rice. Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil per pound of rice.

Rinse the mung beans with cold water.

Make a 45° fold in the middle of one leaf to form a funnel (Photo 2b); this is the apex of the pyramid. Place the next two leaves on each side of the funnel. Put 1/3 cup rice into the bottom of the funnel. Place an egg yoke, 2 pieces of pork belly, 1 tablespoon of mung beans, and 3 chestnuts on top of the rice. Now add another 2/3 cup rice to cover. Set the fourth leaf on top to cover all the rice, fold the sides of the leaves (the long sides of the rectangle) inward, and then the ends (the short sides of the rectangle) to completely cover the contents. Bind the leaves with string.

Place the joong in a large pot, add water to cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature to simmer and cook for 4 hours. Check the water level a regular intervals and replenish with hot water as needed. Joong freeze well. They can be reheated in the microwave, but I prefer to simmer frozen joong for 45 minutes.

Prep time: 3 hours

Cook time: 4 hours

Total time: 7 hours (not counting salted eggs)

Mom’s Chinese Kitchen

joong wrapping

Photo No. 2 — How to wrap a joong (click photo to enlarge). (a) Joong mold; (b) Make a 45 fold in one leaf to form the apex of the pyramid; (c) Place 1/3 cup of rice on leaf; (d) add the rest of the ingredients, then cover with the other 2/3 cups of rice.

English name Joong, Chinese tamales
Chinese name 粽(子) or 糉
Cantonese (Jyutping) zung2, zung3 listen
Mandarin (Pinjin) zong4 zi5