Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dragon Boat Festival (Duan Wu Jie)

Dragon Boat Festival (Duan Wu Jie)

The Dragon Boat Festival, Duan Wu Jie, Duan Yang meaning the "Upright Sun" or "Double Fifth", Fifth Month Festival (common name amongst the Chinese), a Chinese festivity tracing its origins to Southern China, falling on the fifth day of the fifth month around the Summer Solstice, involving boat races and rice dumplings. The festivity evolved from the practice of revering the River Dragon, to what later became a festival to commemorate Qu Yuan, a third century poet and political figure of the State of Chu.

Primitive worship of the river dragon was often practised during the Summer Solstice. The Dragon Boat Festival was tied to Qu Yuan's story only in the second century A. D. Qu Yuan was a councillor and a patriotic Chu Minister who lived in the third century B.C. In the midst of turmoil during the period of Warring States, Qu Yuan had warned his king, Lord Huai of the threat that the northern Qing posed toward the southern state of Chu. However, political intrigue led Lord Huai to banish Qu Yuan instead. The ministry was left in the hands of corrupt statesmen and Qu Yuan helplessly watched his motherland decline. Depressed, he began to pen beautiful, patriotic poetry such as Li Sao (an allegorical poem stating his political aspirations), Jiu Ge (or "Nine Songs") and Huai Sha (pointing to his eventual suicide), all of which gained Qu Yuan great renown. In 278 B. C., General Bai Qi led the Qing armies to occupy Ying and destroyed the Imperial palace. Several months later, on the fifth day of the fifth moon in 279 B.C. Qu Yuan, driven to despair, threw himself into the Mi-Luo River, giving his life to his country.Here the legend varies. Some suggest that fishermen at hand attempted to save their Minister. Having failed, they sought to appease his spirit by throwing out rice stuffed in bamboo stems into the river to prevent the fish from eating the body of their beloved Minister. Others say that the rice offerings had been snatched by a river dragon and the rice needed to be bundled in chinaberry leaves instead and tied with five different coloured silk threads in order to be effective. The triangular rice dumplings or zong zi thus became entwined with the festivities. Another version has the farmers rowing out in dragon boats in their attempt to save Qu Yuan. Thus the practise of the dragon boat races.

(Blue Text Source: http://infopedia.nlb.gov.sg/articles/SIP_67_2004-12-27.html)

Today is the actual Dragon Boat Festival Day, the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Over the weekends, my mother, grandmother, aunties and uncles were helping to tie the rice dumplings (Bak Changs). Having grandparents from two different dialect groups (Cantonese and Teochew) allows me to see the difference in the type of rice dumplings made. Generally, the key difference between the two types of rice dumplings is that my Cantonese grandmother's rice dumplings are darker and the rice have been fried with lots of soya sauce, five spice powder and coriander powder. Her rice dumplings are very close to those available outside with sliced shitake mushrooms, minced pork, chestnuts, salted eggs, etc...

On the other hand, my Teochew grandmother's rice dumplings (as seen in this bake journal entry) are lighter in colour and one corner of the rice dumpling is red bean paste. According to my Teochew grandmother, this style of rice dumpling is very traditionally Teochew. When one savours the rice dumplings, one tends to eat from the salty end and ends off with a sweet red bean paste finish. Do note that there are red bean paste dumplings available outside, but they are generally plain glutinuous rice wrapped with red bean paste.

Another of my Teochew grandmother's specialty is her chilli rice dumplings. The minced pork is fried with her special chilli paste and then used as a filling. As compared to the first rice dumpling, this is much easier as there are only two fillings (plain glutinuous rice and chilli minced pork).

Left: Fillings for the traditional rice dumplings, Right: Chilli minced pork fillings for the chilli rice dumplings.

Left: Filling the bamboo leaves with glutinuous rice, Right: Tying the rice dumplings securely.

Left: More rice dumplings waiting to be cooked, Right: Rice dumplings cooking in hot boiling water.