Published Aug 23 2013, by

Celebrating Duanwu Festival

Photo by Billy Tseng, in Taipei, Taiwan.

Photo by Billy Tseng, in Taipei, Taiwan.

Ever seen a dragon boat race? The Marco Polo World Foundation recently held their annual Dragon Boat Festival in Las Colinas. The Crow Collection was proud to be there, and I was especially excited because dragon boat races are a thing of my childhood.

Dragon boat (龍船) races in China and other Asian countries such as Taiwan commemorate the Duanwu festival  (端午节), a summer holiday which falls on June 12 this year.  On this day families get together to cook and eat Zongzi (粽子), and cheer on the dragon boats as they race to the finish line.

A Zongzi is a delicious and ingenious food, made with pork, shrimp, mushrooms and other fillings, along with sticky rice and soy sauce. The entire thing is wrapped in a pyramid shape using bamboo leaves and then steamed or boiled.

The recipe varies from country to country, as well as city to city, and most people will proudly profess that their hometown makes the best Zongzi in the world. I’ve also had a great variation in Taiwan made with sweet filling instead of meat and veggies.

I found a recipe on the blog Use Real Butter by Jennifer Yu which reminds me of the ones I used to eat when I was younger. Yu describes getting together with your family to make Zhongzi saying: “Like tamales, you don’t just make two or three at a time – this is a production.”

What is the origin of Zhongzi and Dragon Boat racing? The legend goes that Qu Yuan, a great patriotic poet from around 300 B.C.E. loved his country so much that he drowned himself when the capital was invaded by enemies. Nearby villagers and friends were saddened by his death and went to the river in boats to try and salvage his body. When they couldn’t find it, they beat loud drums and threw rice wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river to keep the fish from eating Qu Yuan’s body.

Today, we celebrate his heroic act by eating rice wrapped in bamboo leaves and racing dragon boats.

The boats are powered by teams of around 20 rowers. The rowers are led by a drummer who sits at the front of the boat and beats a rhythm to keep the rowers in time while the steersman guides from the back.

The boats at the DFW Dragon Boat Festival were provided by the Texas Dragon Boat Association.  The DFW Dragon Boat Festival website says “Dragon Boating is one of the hottest growing water sports.” You would be surprised how many major cities in the US, Canada, and other countries in the west now host these festivities in May.

Cheering on the teams (of mostly amateur rowers) as they worked together that Sunday was fun, but it’ll be more fun to participate next year as a contestant. What do you say? Are you up for the challenge?