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.
Zongzi Chinese tamales (粽子) or sticky rice dumplings are stuffed with sticky rice, pork belly, and shiitake mushrooms, wrapped inside reed or bamboo leaves.
- 2 cups glutinous rice (sticky rice), uncooked
- 1 cup soy sauce, divided
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- ½ lb. pork belly, diced into 2-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine
- 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon white pepper powder
- 1 cup roasted peanuts
- 1 cup chestnuts (optional)
- 1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
- 12-18 pieces dry reed leaves (or bamboo leaves)
- 6 pieces of cooking cotton strings, cut into 20-inch long pieces (for tying the tamales)
Make the Filling:
- Prepare the glutinous rice. Soak glutinous rice in water for 3+ hours or overnight. Drain water and let it sit for 10 minutes. Transfer the rice to a bowl and add ½ cup of soy sauce and dark soy sauce. Stir until the soy sauce is fully immersed in the rice and the rice is fully coated.
- Prepare the pork belly. In a large bowl, combine pork belly, ½ cup soy sauce, cooking wine, ginger, sugar, salt and white pepper powder. Add in peanut and chestnuts (optional). Toss to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 2 hours.
- Prepare the shiitake mushrooms. In another bowl, soak shiitake mushrooms in warm water for 1 hour. (They will float at first, but will eventually sink to the bottom of the bowl).
- Prepare the reed leaves. Add reed leaves in a pot and add a few cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 20 minutes. This will make the leaves softer and easier for wrapping. Leave it soaked in the pot until it cools down and you are ready to wrap, or rinse it under cold water. Make sure the leaves are damp when you are ready to wrap, for easier handling.
Assemble and Cook:
- Overlap 2-3 pieces of bamboo leaves and twist turn to form a narrow cone. (Using 3 leaves per tamale makes it easier for wrapping if you are a beginner).
- Add a layer of glutinous rice to fill ⅓ of the space in the cone. Add 1 piece of pork belly, a couple peanuts, 1 chestnut, and some mushrooms to fill another ⅓ of the cone. Top up remaining ⅓ of the space with more rice and make it level on the top.
- 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 everything inside. Repeat to make 5 more zongzi tamales.
- Place zongzi tamales in a pot. Fill the pot with water to completely cover the zongzi tamales by over 1-inch. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Check on them periodically to make sure that they are completely submerged in water the whole time. If needed, add more water.
- Remove from heat and leave in the pot of water until ready to serve. If you take them out before you are ready to eat, they will dry out. To reheat, simply boil again in water for 10 minutes.
How to unwrap zongzi: Zongzi is quite sticky after cooking. Use scissors to cut the string and slightly wet your hands to unwrap the leaves.
How to store zongzi: Zongzi will last up to 5 days when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, or up to 3 months in the freezer.
How to reheat zongzi: To reheat, put the frozen tamale into a pot of boiling water and simmer on low for 30 minutes.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes (+3 hours wait time)
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Category: Dim Sum
- Method: Boil
- Cuisine: Chinese
Keywords: zongzi, Chinese tamales, sticky rice dumpings, glutinous rice dumplings, bamboo leaves