Savoury zongzi Chinese tamales, or sticky rice dumplings, are stuffed with layers of sticky rice, tender pork belly, shiitake mushrooms, peanuts and chestnuts, and are wrapped inside reed or bamboo leaves. They are boiled in water until soft and tender inside, and are enjoyed by millions of people every year in the days and weeks leading up to the Dragon Boat Festival.
What are Chinese Tamales?
Chinese tamales (zongzi) are savoury sticky rice dumplings stuffed with sticky rice and meat. People get creative with other ingredients and add in mushrooms, nuts, eggs, or sausage. The most popular flavour in Shanghai is pork belly and mushroom, and this is the recipe that Danny grew up on.
Chinese tamales can also be sweet, stuffed with sticky rice, red beans or read bean paste, and dates. People in southern China prefer the savoury kind and eat it as a snack, whereas people from northern China prefer it sweet and treat it as a dessert.
They are readily available in Asian supermarkets and are sold in frozen packages. Although you can buy them ready-made, making your own is so much more rewarding. They are fun to make, and you are in full control of what you put inside and the quality of the ingredients that you use.
Ingredients in Savoury Zongzi Chinese Tamales
- glutinous rice - also known as sticky rice. Despite it's name, it is gluten-free.
- soy sauce - to flavour the rice, and also used in the pork marinade.
- dark soy sauce - to flavour the rice.
- pork belly - diced into 2-inch cubes
- Chinese cooking wine - for the pork marinade.
- ginger - for the pork marinade.
- sugar - for the pork marinade.
- salt - for the pork marinade.
- white pepper powder - for the pork marinade.
- roasted peanuts - optional.
- chestnuts - optional.
- dried shiitake mushrooms
- dry reed leaves - or can use bamboo leaves. You will need 12-18 in total, or 2-3 leaves per tamale. If you are a beginner, use 3 pieces for wrapping, as it easier to handle. Once you get the hang of it, you can try with two pieces.
- cooking cotton strings - you will also need six 20-inch long pieces, for tying the tamales.
Zongzi can have be made with many different flavours, so it all depends on the filling you put inside. You can fully customize it and add in your favourite kind of meat or vegetables. Some other common combinations are: red bean paste with dates, chicken with mushrooms, and sausage with chestnuts.
How to Make Zongzi 粽子 Chinese Tamales
Making zongzi requires some planning in advance and there is a lot of waiting around time. You need to prepare and cook every ingredient for the assembly line. For instance, you need to soak the rice for at least 3 hours, marinate the pork at least 2 hours, and soak the mushrooms for one hour.
To make these sticky rice dumplings, here is what you will need to do:
- Prepare the glutinous rice. Soak glutinous rice in water for 3+ hours or overnight. Drain and let it sit for 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, add soy sauce and dark soy sauce. Stir until fully coated.
- Prepare the pork belly. Combine pork belly, soy sauce, cooking wine, ginger, sugar, salt and white pepper powder. Add in peanut and chestnuts. Toss to combine, cover bowl and place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 2 hours.
- Prepare the shiitake mushrooms. Soak mushrooms in warm water for 1 hour.
- Prepare the reed leaves. Bring a pot of water with reed leaves to a boil and cook for 20 minutes.
- Assemble the zongzi. Overlap 2-3 pieces of bamboo leaves and twist to form a narrow cone. Add a layer of rice, a layer of pork belly, mushrooms and nuts, and a final later of more rice.
- Wrap the zongzi. Fold the two sides of the leaf over the rice. Then, fold the top of the leaf down to cover the rice completely. Tie with a cooking string to seal.
- Cook. Place zongzi tamales in a pot and fill with water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour.
- Serve. Remove from heat and leave in the pot until ready to serve.
How to Wrap Zongzi Sticky Rice Dumplings
There are different ways of to wrap the zongzi dumplings. It takes some practice but be patient and creative. The key is to make sure all the ingredients are wrapped tightly in leaves.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do you unwrap zongzi? Zongzi is quite sticky after cooking. Use scissors to cut the string and slightly wet your hands to unwrap the leaves.
- How long will it last? It will last up to 5 days when stored in an airtight container and store the refrigerator.
- Can you freeze zongzi? Yes, to freeze, place in an airtight container (a Ziploc bag works great too) and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. To reheat, put the frozen tamale into a pot of boiling water and simmer on low for 30 minutes.
- Can you double the batch? Yes, of course! You can make a double or even triple batch so you can enjoy these for the whole month or longer.
- Is glutinous rice (sticky rice) gluten free? Yes! Despite it's name, it is gluten-free.
How to Serve Chinese Tamales
These sticky dumplings can be served hot or cold. Depending on how you serve it, you will experience a different texture and flavour. When serving hot, the zongzi will be fresh, soft and tender. When serving cold, it will be more chewy.
You can serve savoury zongzi with any sauce that you like. Try some hot sauce, hoisin sauce, or vinegar. Sweet zongzi are usually served with some honey or sugar to enhance the sweetness.
More Chinese Dim Sum Recipes
- Shanghai-Style Vegetarian Steamed Buns
- Chicken and Cilantro Wontons
- Spicy Chili Oil Wontons
- Egg and Chive Vegetarian Dumplings
- Beef Potstickers with Celery
Did you make this recipe? I would greatly appreciate a comment and rating below, letting me know what you thought of the recipe. You can also snap a picture and tag me on Instagram @aheadofthyme or share it on the Pinterest pin so that I can follow along.