The fifth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar is the Dragon Boat Festival, which commemorates the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (circa 339-278 BC). It is a Chinese tradition to make and eat Zongzi on this day.

According to the Records of the Grand Historian, Qu Yuan was an official of the State of Chu during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). Qu passionately advocated selecting government functionaries according to their competence instead of their social background, strengthening military force and allying the State of Qi to confront Qin. He was therefore a thorn in the side of Chu’s aristocrats, who framed him and sent him into exile. From exile Qu Yuan wrote volumes of poems full of concern for the people and love for his country that are still remembered today.

In 278 BC Qin’s forces broke into Chu’s capital. When the news reached Qu Yuan, he drowned himself in the Miluo River to show loyalty to his home state after finishing his last work, Huaisha. Local people, who deeply respected the poet, rushed to the bank and tried to retrieve his body from the water. A fisherman dumped rice balls and eggs from his boat to keep fish from eating the poet’s remains. Other people followed his example, and a doctor poured rice wine into the river to intoxicate them. This is the origin of Zongzi, rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo, reed or Nimtree leaves and bound with colorful threads.

Here’s how to make them:

1. Boil and soak the leaves in hot water until they turn soft.

2. Rinse glutinous rice and steep in water for three to four hours.

3. For meat stuffing, streaky pork is preferred. Cut the pork into cubes, and marinate them in soybean sauce, salt, sugar, distilled liquor and five-spice powder for four to five hours.

4. As for sweet fillings, the most popular ones are red date and beans. The beans have to be soaked for hours in advance.

5. Remove the leafstalk, cross two leaves and fold them into a cone. Put some rice in it, add the filling and cover it with more rice. Close the cone opening and tie it with thread.

6. Put the Zongzi aside for a while to let the flavor of the leaf and filling seep into the rice. Then boil in a pressure cooker. For meat Zongzi, keep the wok on a low flame for 30 minutes after steam rises. For red date Zongzi, 20 minutes is enough.