Today is Duanwu Festival (端午节, Duānwǔ Jié), also known as Dragon Boat Festival (龍舟節) and the Double Fifth (雙五節). It’s the 5th day of the 5th month in the lunisolar Chinese calendar. I affectionately dub it Zhongzi (粽子) Day, in honor of the lovely packets of glutinous rice, also known as Bachang (肉粽) in Taiwanese. Traditionally, we celebrate this day by eating yummy zhongzi and racing dragon boats.
So what did I do today to celebrate in Switzerland? Nothing. This event isn’t really celebrated here. Aww… shucks.
I just went to work and had a full day of meetings and crunching numbers. I did manage to visit the gym to get 45 minutes of cardio in on the elliptical machine, which promptly made me so hungry that I ate everything in sight later on.
My munchies did start off healthy… beginning with beans, veggies, tuna, and a hard-boiled egg… but then transitioned into some rich slices of Butterzopf topped with peanut butter and cream cheese and a sprinkling of cinnamon (oh yum)… and then since I’d already polished off my entire jar of Nutella over the weekend, I finally raided my stash of baking chocolate, à la Max from the cute movie Mary and Max (2009). I didn’t even know that one could snack on baking chocolate but he did it throughout the entire movie, so I followed suit. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. 😛
I tried to do an internet search to see if there were any Duānwǔ Jié activities going on in Switzerland and could only come up with a company that offers dragon boat events for corporations and stuff–but there was no special event for today! 😦 But their website did give a nice little explanation on the history of dragon boat racing.
The dragon boat tradition was born more or less 2,500 years ago. One legend claims that the Chinese statesman and poet Chu Yuan wanted to drown himself in the Mi Lo River – he had been banished and was desperate and discredited. The native fishermen are said to have launched their boots [sic] to rescue him. They slapped their paddles loudly into the water, in order to chase off the evil spirits. To stop the fish from eating the body of their beloved poet, the fisherman threw food to the fish. Their search was in vain. Yet this legend constitutes the origin of today’s competitive paddling. Thereafter, the fishermen met every year with their boats in Chu Yuan’s honour, and carried out a symbolic search in memory of the poet – in numerous dragon boat races. Over the years, they decorated their small craft in the manner one sees more and more these days – at international gatherings outside of Asia.
It’s a cute story on the origin of zhongzi, about why there are sticky rice triangles wrapped in bamboo leaves dropped into the river to feed the fish. I wonder if people still put zhongzi in the water today. I suppose it would be now be considered littering though. But do the fish really eat that stuff??
I really love zhongzi. I’m a sucker for glutinous rice, or nuòmǐ (糯米). Chewy and delicious, some of my favorite ways to eat it are savory–as in the Taiwanese “oil rice” (油飯) dish with savoury oils and shredded pork meat, mushrooms, and dried shrimp–or it eating it sweet, pounded soft into a Japanese mochi rice cake.
Zhongzi is more like the former, but with the addition of fragrant bamboo leaves that the rice packets are steamed in. Last May, I lucked out by finding a fresh zongzi at Lian Hua Wiedikon. Never mind that it cost CHF 3.95 and was made in Thailand… beggars can’t be choosers in Zurich. I unwrapped the fragrant bamboo leaves and devoured the sweet, savory, and slightly spicy goodness of glutinous rice stuffed with shiitake mushrooms, mini dried shrimp, pork, cooked peanuts, and salted duck egg as soon as I got home. Mmm…
I went back this May to try my luck again, and lo and behold, they had fresh zhongzi for sale at the checkout counter. Yes!! I plucked one out of the batch and eagerly took it home. But… this one was mostly rice without much filling. Kind of spicy with a weird herbal cilantro taste with a bunch of peanuts and some bits of crappy indistinguishable meat. No!!! Not what I expected at all. I was sorely disappointed. I wonder if it was Thai style? I really prefer the Taiwanese kind with pork, egg, chestnut, peanuts, etc.
Oh well. I tried. But it really makes me hesitant to go back there to buy another one in the future. Too bad I don’t know how to make it here myself. I was asking my mother earlier how I could make Taiwanese oil rice here, since it’s kind of a similar dish, but I think it’s probably too much trouble and I doubt that I can find the proper ingredients, such as Chinese sausage.
The other major aspect to celebrating Duānwǔ Jié is dragon boat racing. My brother used to be part of the Space Dragons dragon boat racing team in Long Beach, and I did try it out once at a Family and Friends Day back in April 2008. It was one day of grueling practice, stroking in beat to the guy beating the drum, getting tons of water splashed all over me by the paddler in front of me, and basically having every muscle in my back and arms crying out in pain and sore the following week.
Dragon boat racing is definitely a tremendous workout and not for the faint-hearted. Actually, I think when my brother was still paddling on the team, he had a solid six-pack of rock-hard abs. So maybe it’s not a bad idea if you want to get in shape. As for now, I have my hands full with the 30 Day Ab Challenge, so I don’t think I need to pick up anything else for the moment. But maybe something to keep in mind for the future… the wayy distant future.