This sticky, semi-solid rice outside is filled with either a savory or sweet inside. Popular varieties include sweet red bean paste, tapioca, taro, or meat, mushrooms, or salted duck eggs, although of course there’s many other filling possibilities.
Sometimes just called rice dumplings in English-speaking countries, these dumplings are traditionally steamed or boiled in bamboo leaves (although other large leaves like banana or lotus are also used depending on where they’re made), which along with their other qualities gives them the nickname “Chinese tamales.” As a food with variations throughout China, the exact shape of zongzi differs somewhat depending on the region.
Zongzi go beyond just being a delightful snack, however, as they have a millennia-old tradition of being eaten during the Duanwu Festival, also known as the Dragon Boat Festival to English speakers. This festival is in many ways analogous to solstice festivals elsewhere in the world, typically falling sometime from the end of May to mid-June, and the custom of eating zongzi during it has been documented for almost 2,000 years!
If you’re looking to make your own zongzi, you can find all the ingredients like glutinous rice and various fillings throughout Uwajimaya.