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Dragon Boat Festival: Culinary delights from past and present come together

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Suzanne Parker

The Dragon Boat Festival is a rite of the Chinese holiday, the Fifth Moon Festival. Celebrated throughout Asia, it is also known as the Double Fifth, Tuen Ng in Cantonese, or DuānwÇ” Jié in Mandarin.

The holiday commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a minister in the kingdom of Chu (475 – 221 BCE) and also considered to be China’s first poet. He was esteemed for his wise counsel that had brought peace and prosperity to the kingdom. However, when false accusations were made against him, he was disgraced and dismissed from office. Realizing that the country was now in the hands of corrupt officials, Qu Yuan clasped a large stone and leaped into Ni Lo River after composing the “Lament for Ying”, on the fifth day of the fifth moon. Nearby fishermen rushed to save him, but they failed and his body was never recovered. Thereafter, the kingdom declined and was eventually conquered

The dragon-boat races symbolize the frantic attempts to rescue Qu Yuan.

The people of Chu, mourning the death of Qu Yuan, threw packets of rice into the river to feed his hungry ghost every year on the fifth day of the fifth moon.

There is a special food associated with the Dragon Boat Festival called “Zongzi” or “Jung.” They are the Chinese equivalent of sweet tamales. They are made by steaming glutinous rice and a combination of other ingredients such as beans, lotus seeds, chestnuts, pork fat, Chinese sausage, peanuts and the golden yolk of a salted duck egg, wrapped in bamboo or lotus leaves and tied. Should you be so ambitious as to want to try this at home, a good recipe with detailed instructions can be found at www.seriouseats.com/2011/05/how-to-make-joong-zong-zi-chinese-pork-stuffed-glutinous-rice-bundles.html. The most challenging part, which is omitted from this version, is to wrap the rice in the clever pyramid shape that you often see in Chinese markets and restaurants. This is a skill that is passed along between generations.

Not that ambitious? Check out the International Food Court, next to the stage at the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in Flushing Meadow Park, which, according to the event’s organizers “provides a diversified choice of food and drink that is suitable for an outdoor multicultural sporting event and land festivals.” It would please our mayor to see the abundance of choices for fresh fruits and fruit juices.

You can find genuine zongzi at the T-Bar Stand, which, along with the holiday’s signature dish, will be offering steamed Chinese dumplings, fish balls, fresh fruit smoothie, and cut fruits. Pie Pie Q Café of Manhattan’s Chinatown will be offering Chinese baked goods and other Asian foods.

Prefer to chew to a Latin beat? Check out Chifle, a new vendor, for freshly grilled chicken (unlike the day before cooked, dried out version), potato wedges, rice, finger foods, and drinks, or Carlos Segarra BBQ for corn on the cob, shish kabobs, grilled meats, cut fruits and juices.

Everything about Crepes offers both sweet and savory crepes made from traditional French batter and all fresh ingredients served from a traditional French cart. Vegetarian versions are also available.

Eddies Pizza Cart, a spinoff of Original Eddie’s Pizza of New Hyde Park, founded in the 1930s offers a wide selection of Italian and American classics in addition to its famous pizza and “Bars Pies,” so named due to the fact that it is the perfect size to eat and still have room for a beer! A 10-inch Eddie’s Personal Pizza is only 270 calories.

Just thirsty? Slake your thirst with a spicy bottle Bruce Cost Ginger Ale. It is unfiltered, and made with pure cane sugar and fresh ginger (no extracts). If you don’t like spicy, there’s the Lemonade Stand. Life gave them lemons, and guess what they did!

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