"Zong, or joong in Cantonese, is a pyramid-shaped glutinous rice cake or dumpling with Chinese origins. Whilst the outer layer always consists of sticky rice, the filling can vary a great deal depending on region and country, since many South-East Asian cultures have adopted a version of this dish.
"When the capital of his beloved Chu kingdom was overrun by a neighbouring state, the famous patriot and poet Qu Yuan of the Warring states period was overcome by grief and drowned himself in the Miluo River. To prevent the fish from eating his body, parcels of rice were thrown into the river as a diversion." Christina Yeow, Poh & Co.
- 1 kg glutinous rice, soaked in plenty of water overnight, drained before using
- 60 ml (¼ cup) vegetable oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp finely chopped garlic
- 25 small, dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes, then rinsed (if using large mushrooms, cut into bite-sized pieces)
- 3 tsp light soy sauce
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
- 80 ml (⅓ cup) vegetable oil
- 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
- 1 kg boneless pork belly, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
- salt and sugar, to taste
- 25 dried chestnuts, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes, drained
- 60 g (½ cup) dried shrimp, soaked for 30 minutes, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup salted turnip (dai tau choy), soaked for 30 minutes, drained and finely chopped
- 500 g (2¼ cups) black-eyed beans, soaked overnight in cold water, rinsed, parboiled for about 10 minutes, drained
- 1 bunch dried bamboo or lotus leaves, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes or until pliable, rinsed, then soaked in cold water until ready to use
- cooking string
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Soaking time overnight
Cooling time 2 hours
You will need to begin this recipe one day ahead.
To make the rice, place all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
To make the mushrooms, combine the oil and garlic in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat until light golden. Add the remaining ingredients and 250 ml (1 cup) water and simmer gently until the liquid is almost completely evaporated. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
To make the filling, heat half the oil in a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add half the garlic and stir for 30 seconds or until light golden. Add the pork, 2 teaspoons of Chinese five-spice, salt and sugar to taste and cook for 10-12 minutes or until golden and caramelised. Transfer to a plate and set aside to cool.
Heat another tablespoon of oil in the same frying pan or wok over medium heat. Add the chestnuts, 1 teaspoon of the five-spice powder, salt and sugar to taste. Toss for 1 minute, then transfer to a plate and set aside to cool. Add the remaining oil and garlic to the pan and cook over medium-high heat for 30 seconds or until light golden. Add the shrimp, salted turnip, black-eyed beans, the remaining five-spice powder and the salt and sugar to taste. Toss to combine well, then check the seasoning. The filling needs to be a little over seasoned (salty and sweet) as it will balance out with the heavy boiling. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
To assemble the zong, take 2 bamboo leaves top side-up and place them on top of each other with the stem tips at opposite ends, then fold over to form a cone. Spoon about 1½ dessert spoons of rice into bamboo cone. Using your finger push the rice to the sides of the cone forming a well in the middle. Fill with a small portion of each component, 1-2 mushrooms, 1-2 pieces of pork, 1 chestnut and 1 teaspoon of the dried shrimp and bean mixture. Gently press the filling down and cover with another dessert spoon of rice. Gently press all the contents of the cone down, then fold the top end of the bamboo leaves over the rice. Bend the excess ends of leaves to hug tidily around the pyramid. Wind a piece of string firmly around the middle of the zong making sure the loose end of the pyramid is secured, then tie firmly. It’s essential there are no holes in the parcels or the contents will spill out during boiling and cause a horrible mess in the cooking water. Repeat with the remaining leaves, rice and filling.
Cut another 5 lengths of string about 90–100 cm long, then fold in half. Thread 2 of the parcels onto the string then tie a loop in the end - this will allow you to hang the zong on a large hook (available from hardware stores) during cooking.
Half fill a large stock pot or saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Hang the zong from the hook, then carefully place into the boiling water, making sure all the zong are fully submerged. Simmer for 4 hours, topping up with extra water boiling water when necessary. Remove the zong and hang from the hook over a draining board until cool. If you refrigerate the zong, you can re-heat them by steaming or microwaving them individually.
• If you make double this recipe, make sure you swap the bunches of zong around from the top to the bottom layers halfway through the boiling process so they are cooked evenly.