Zongzi: A Recipe in Pictures

So. I promised you some real Chinese food and here it is! This is a snacky-type-thing called zongzi (pronounced dzong-zuh..kind of..my pronunciation is horrible), and  they are basically sticky rice and some kind of filling wrapped up in reed leaves and boiled. They are tastier than that description might sound. Zongzi is traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival which just so happens to be occuring the weekend after next. So you can make these and have your own little celebration at home! You can make them salty (usually with some kind of pork inside) or sweet (with red beans, or corn or nuts or whatever you like, really).

They are not at all difficult, but there is a certain technique to it, and they are rather time consuming. But I say, grab some friends, a bottle of wine (or disgustingly strong rice wine in our case.. mixed with orange juice because we’re classy like that..) and you’ll be amazed how fast it goes! These are one of my favorite things I’ve eaten so far in China, and I can’t wait to try all kinds of different combinations when I get home. Whoo!

our resident zongzi experts..

So. Down to business. This will be a bit different than my normal recipes; I’m going to post it all in pictures so you can visualize what should be happening when!

Ingredients: No measurements here, folks. Chinese food just doesn’t work like that. Which is tough for me because I do so love exact measurements. Alas, I’ll give the best estimates that I can.

  1. Sticky Rice. Also called Glutinous rice, or nuo mi in Chinese. Check an asian market or online if it’s not available in your normal grocery store. Regular Basmati or Jasmine or even short grain just won’t cut it here; it’s not sticky enough.
  2. filling choice. We used red beans (adzuki beans); which is typical for a sweet zongzi. You can also buy these at an asian market, they come dried, or you can find them online as well. If you want to make a salty one, you could marinate pork in a mixture of soy sauce and sugar and cut it into small chunks. You can also use fresh or frozen corn, nuts, other beans, whatever you like. Some of ours had dates as well. I’ll be experimenting with more combinations when I get back to my own kitchen!
  3. Reed leaves. These.. may be hard to find. Truth be told, I don’t even know where to get them in Honolulu. I’m guessing they have them in Chinatown, they may have them at asian markets but I’m not entirely sure. But I’ve read online that you can also use bamboo leaves or banana leaves, and I’m guessing you could also use ti leaves. Any long leaves that are nontoxic should probably work is my guess.
  4. string to tie up your bundles.


So. The leaves need to be soaked in water for at least 12 and preferably 24-48 hours. They should be soft and pliable; rinse them again just before use.Soak the rice for 3 hours by placing it in a bowl and covering it completely with water. If you are using red beans in your zongzi, soak the beans with the rice. (don’t soak the meat. I’m guessing that goes without saying..) Pour off any excess water before beginning


Hold two leaves (if you are using reed leaves or bamboo, or small ti leaves.. Banana leaves are huge so I don’t know about those..) with the top side facing up and the stem end facing your body. The leaves should overlap but leave about an inch on either side un-overlapped. (is there a better way to explain that? there must be..)

Grasp the right edge about 1/3 of the way up the leaf and fold the stem end (henceforth called the bottom) in a triangle motion up towards the top. I am hoping the pictures will be less confusing than the words.



You should end up with a little triangle shaped pocket, press your fingers down to the bottom to be sure there isn’t a hole or a gap.

Fill the pocket with rice and bean mixture. If using extra filling, (meat or dates. etc) place a little rice, and then the filling, and then more rice, pressing down always to ensure it is tightly packed in.

Push the front of your pocket back until it is touching the other leaves. If you have too much rice, it will squeeze out the top; simply brush any excess rice away.

Fold over the excess top part of the leaves, folding very tightly and ensuring the two top corners close. If they don’t close, you may have too much filling.

Continue wrapping the tops of the leaves around the packet. Tie very tightly with string, paying special attention to the corners. What’s that? You have wrapped all the excess and you still have a giant hole in one of the corners?* No problem. Grab an extra leaf and put it, shiny (top) side down and wrap it up to patch the hole.


Take a drink, and give yourself a pat on the back. You just made your first zongzi!! Then set it aside and begin again!


*clearly most of mine didn’t actually look like the one above. Because it was my first time. and I’m not very skilled at making things ‘pretty’. most of mine looked like this:


Once you have made what feels like a million of these little rice packets.. it’s time to cook them. Fill a large rice cooker, a heavy bottomed pot with a lid, or a pressure cooker with your zongzi and enough water to cover them completely. Using a rice cooker, simply turn it on and leave it alone. If using a heavy pot, set it on medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Either way, you will cook the zongzi at a boil for about 3 hours or until they are soft to the touch. If you are using a pressure cooker, it will only take about a half an hour.  (We used a pressure cooker, so I’m not 100% clear on how long it takes in a rice cooker or pot on the stove. I would start checking after about an hour and check every half hour or so. They aren’t high maintenance but you don’t want the rice to pop out of the wrapper!)



Once fully cooked, remove from hot water and place in a bowl of cold water until cool enough to handle. Unwrap, eat and enjoy!! They are especially delicious if you dip them in sugar; regardless of if you are eating salty or sweet ones.

Zongzi will last in the fridge for 3-4 days. Or maybe 5. They also freeze wonderfully, which you know you’ll be glad of when you look down and realize you just made 45 zongzi..yeah. You can reheat them by steaming or in the microwave with a little water on the plate.

For more tips on zongzi making check out this link, which has tips on how to make them a bit larger; something we failed at. hah! I’ll be trying out their tips next time for sure!


7 responses to “Zongzi: A Recipe in Pictures

  1. Such an awesome post, Erin!! We eat this all the time, too (well a Vietnamese version but I’m sure it’s probably exactly the same). I can’t believe you know how to make it 😀 I’ve never tried! Definitely giving it a shot sometime soon…

    • awesome! yeah they had a lot of similar things in Thailand too. I hope you try it out! I can’t wait to make some at home..

  2. Melissa Allmann

    YUMM… Looks good!
    Can’t wait to hear all about China… food and everything else!

  3. Great post! I remember eating these as a kid-we always made them with pork or plain rice and dipped them in sugar, SO good!! I happen to live in Honolulu too, did you ever figure out a place to buy the bamboo leaves? I’m a little leery of Chinatown and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them at at Nijiya or Don Quijote… I will definitely be trying to make these this year:)

    • Thanks! I haven’t actually looked for them since I got back to Honolulu.. I would guess they definitely have them in Chinatown though. You cook these for so long that I think they should be okay.. haha! I think you could also use Ti leaves or banana leaves though. Might not be traditional, but it would still work!

  4. Thanks for showing us how to wrap the zongzi. However the first 5 pictures are too dark. Wonder if you can make it lighter some we know how you did the first fold and re-post them. That will be great. Thanks.

  5. Pingback: zong zi, bamboo wrapped sticky rice –

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