Pork Zongzi (Cantonese Savory Sticky Rice Dumplings)

These savory sticky pork rice dumplings, known as pork zongzi, are a tasty treat and a perfect signature summer festival food! {Gluten-Free adaptable}

Savory zongzi on bamboo leaves

It’s almost time for the famed Dragon Boat Festival in China. Also known as the Duanwu Festival, it has been a tradition for well over 2,000 years. Mostly, the celebration has to do with customs, superstitions, and creating good health. The most traditional custom is the dragon boat race itself, though some people hang Chinese plants as decorations.

And of course, no Dragon Boat Festival would ever be complete without the sticky rice dumplings known as zongzi. I have shared a recipe for zongzi before, but it was a sweet recipe. There are so many kinds of zongzi out there so I thought it would be nice to share a recipe for a pork zongzi that will hit all the savory notes you’re looking for. 

Wrapped uncooked zongzi

Pork Zongzi

This recipe for pork zongzi has a Cantonese-style filling. It’s savory, rich with pork, and salty, with a combination of duck egg yolk, mung beans, and shiitake mushrooms. I’m not going to lie…Pork zongzi is a time-consuming project that requires a fair amount of prep work but it is absolutely worth it. Many Chinese people will buy zongzi frozen but there is nothing more delicious than fresh-made pork zongzi. Besides, the store-bought ones tend to skimp on the filling which won’t make a good impression if you’ve never tasted zongzi before. 

I’ve included a number of notes below so you can replace any ingredients you can’t find, assemble your own pork zongzi with what you have on hand, and fine tune it to your tastes. 

Pulled apart zongzi showing salty duck egg yolk, mushroom, and pork

Ingredients

Zongzi leaves

There are several types of Zongzi leaves in China, and the most popular ones are the bamboo leaves. They impart an earthy and refreshing fragrance to the sticky rice and are a very important part of the recipe. When the Dragon Boat festival is close, you can usually find dried bamboo leaves at Asian markets. Sometimes you can also find the fresh bamboo leaves in the refrigerated section. You can even purchase fresh bamboo leaves on Amazon.

If you use the dried leaves, you’ll need to soak them overnight before using them.

Dried and soaked bamboo leaves for making zongzi

Short grain sweet rice

Sweet rice is also known as glutinous rice or sticky rice (it’s actually gluten-free), and it has a sticky texture once it’s cooked. It’s the ingredient, when made into flour, that gives mochi its bounciness.

It’s important to use short grain sweet rice (NOT long grain) for zongzi, so once you boil the zongzi, the grains are separated and have a better texture. If using long grain sweet rice, the rice will lump together and form a uniform mass. 

Unfortunately, sometimes you cannot tell the difference between short and long grain sweet rice by looking at the package. I’ve included two pictures below, so you can find the correct type by looking at the shape of the rice. You can also try to find mochi rice, which is usually the short grain type. You can find it on Amazon as well.

You’ll need to soak the sweet rice overnight before using it.

Short grain and long grain sweet rice
Packaged and soaked sweet rice

What type of pork to use

Authentic pork zongzi always use fatty pork belly. Sometimes I find it too fatty for my tastes, but you do need pork with a certain amount of fat to make the recipe work. Once the cooking is done, the fat will melt into the rice and create a very delicious result, like when you use lard to make French fries. If you have access to an Asian market, I highly recommend finding a lean chunk of pork belly that has thick strips of pork in between the fat layers. However, if you prefer the dish to be less greasy, you can use pork chops or pork loin with a good amount of fat attached. In this case, it’s important to cut the pork carefully so each chunk has some fat attached.

You will need to marinate the pork in the sauce overnight so it fully absorbs the flavor.

Shelled mung beans

We added some shelled mung beans to the zongzi to add a fun texture. It’s important to use shelled beans, otherwise the shell will create a tough mouthfeel once cooked.

You can find them at Asian grocery stores or use yellow mung dal from Indian grocery stores. You can also purchase them from Amazon.

You will need to soak the mung beans overnight before using.

Dried and soaked and hulled mung beans

Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms add a delicious smoky and earthy flavor to the rice. I highly recommend using them in your zongzi. I wouldn’t recommend using fresh mushrooms because they tend to shrink a lot and might make your zongzi collapse if you add too much. You can find them at most Asian grocery stores or on Amazon.

Salted duck egg yolks

Another ingredient to add texture and salty umami to your zongzi. Salted duck egg yolk is a common ingredient for making mooncakes and zongzi. For a better texture and more perfect results, buy whole cured duck eggs at Chinese markets and use the yolks. For the sake of convenience, you can purchase the vacuum-packed salty duck egg yolks as well (the texture is a bit gelatinous). You can find both on Amazon (yolk & whole eggs).

Shiitake mushrooms and salty duck egg yolks
These savory sticky pork rice dumplings, known as savory zongzi, are a tasty treat and a perfect signature summer festival food! {Gluten-Free adaptable}

How to replace the ingredients

Pork belly and shiitake mushrooms are the key ingredients. 

  • You can skip the mung beans and the duck egg yolks if you don’t like them or cannot find them. You can replace both by soaking more sweet rice. 
  • If you can find roasted and peeled chestnuts, they’re a great ingredient to add to your zongzi to replace the beans and/or the duck eggs. 
  • Alternatively, you can double up on the pork belly and make the zongzi meatier. Just remember that you’ll need to double up on the marinade as well. (This is my mom’s favorite method to make the zongzi more flavorful)
  • You can add some chopped Chinese sausage to the zongzi as well. The sausage is quite sweet, but it works nicely with the savory seasonings in this recipe.

Workflow

It takes some organization to prepare all the ingredients for zongzi. You should marinate the pork and soak the bamboo leaves, sweet rice, and mung beans the day before making the zongzi. 

The day you plan to make them, you will need to mix the sauce with the soaked rice, rehydrate the mushrooms, and cut the salty egg yolks. Your table should look at this before wrapping the zongzi.

Ingredients for making pork zongzi

Cooking Process

Prepare the zongzi leaves

  • Select two leaves and cut off both ends of each.
  • Overlap about half, up to two thirds, of the leaves together.
  • Use both of your hands to shape the leaves into a cone.
  • Make sure the tails of the leaves are long enough to cover the top of the cone. If not, rearrange the leaves so they overlap less.
Prepare zongzi leaves

Stuff the filling

  • Stuff the bottom of the cone with sweet rice
  • Add the pork, egg yolk, and mushrooms
  • Place a thin layer of mung beans on top
  • Further add sweet rice to almost fill the cone
Stuff zongzi

NOTE:

  • It’s important to NOT pack the rice with too much force. The rice will expand a lot once cooked and it will make the filling more chewy if you do so.
  • If you decide to use two pieces of pork, make sure to space them out and have some rice in between them.

Wrap the zongzi

  1. Once you’ve filled up the zongzi, carefully fold up the top of the cone to cover the rice
  2. Fold the tail of the leaves to cover the top of the cone
  3. Further fold the tail around the cone
  4. The zongzi will form a triangle shape with all the rice well covered by the bamboo leaves
  5. Use the prepared kitchen twine to tie up the leaves. You might need to use two pieces of twine to tie the zongzi like a cross so it won’t fall apart during cooking.
  6. Place the wrapped zongzi on a tray so it catches any marinade liquid that seeps out from the leaves.
How to wrap zongzi step-by-step

Cook the zongzi

You can either cook zongzi on the stovetop or in an Instant Pot (pressure cooker).

  • To cook them on the stove top: cover the zongzi with a lot of water and boil covered for 3 hours.
  • To cook in a pressure cooker: cover the zongzi with water and cook at high pressure for 1 hour, then let the pressure release naturally.

Even for the pressure cooker method, you will need about 2 hours if you include the time needed to increase and release the pressure. But I found it slightly easier because you don’t need to monitor the process. I didn’t find a significant difference in the outcomes of the two methods. 

Cooked zongzi in a tray

Afterthought

Making pork zongzi is definitely a project you’ll want to set aside half a day to work on. It might seem complicated, but it’s actually a lot of fun to wrap them. And it’s definitely very rewarding one you taste the zongzi. While it does take a while to make, your pork zongzi can be frozen and they’ll be good for 6 months, making them a wonderful edible gift you can give to friends to celebrate the Dragon Boat festival. 

Pork zongzi on bamboo leaves
Pulled apart zongzi close-up

Other pastry to make for Dragon Boat Festival

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Savory zongzi on bamboo leaves

Pork Zongzi (Cantonese Savory Sticky Rice Dumplings)

These savory sticky pork rice dumplings, known as pork zongzi, are a tasty treat and a perfect signature summer festival food! {Gluten-Free adaptable}
To make the dish gluten-free, use tamari to replace both soy sauce and dark soy sauce. You can use chee hou sauce or homemade oyster sauce to replace the regular oyster soy sauce. Also use dry sherry instead of Shaoxing wine.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: Dragon Boat Festival
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 3 hours
Soaking time: 12 hours
Total Time: 16 hours
Servings: 12 zongzi
Calories: 314kcal
Author: Maggie Zhu

Ingredients

  • 24 to 36 dried bamboo leaves (Footnote 1)
  • 24 2 ft (60 cm) twine

Rice

Pork

  • 12 oz (350 g) fatty pork (pork belly, chop, or loin with fat attached) , cut into 2” (5cm) chunks (Footnote 3)
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 2 green onions , sliced diagonally

Filling

Instructions

Prepare ahead

  • Soak the bamboo leaves, sweet rice, and mung beans separately in water overnight.
  • Combine all the pork ingredients and allow to marinate overnight.

The day of making the zongzi

  • (Optional- to sanitize the bamboo leaves, remove them from the soaking liquid and add them to a pot with fresh water. Bring it to a boil and cook the leaves for 5 minutes.) Drain the leaves and wipe them each down on both sides. Cut off an inch from the base and an inch from the tip.
  • Place the shiitake mushrooms in a medium-sized bowl and add hot water to cover. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft throughout. Drain the mushrooms, squeeze out the excess water, and slice them into quarters.
  • Drain the rice and transfer it to a big bowl. Add the seasonings to the rice and mix until evenly coated.
  • Drain the mung beans and transfer them to a medium-sized bowl.
  • To wrap the zongzi (see the process photos above for the steps)
  • Take two leaves, making sure they do not have any holes or tears. Use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut off 1” (2.5 cm) from both ends. Face the smooth sides towards yourself (this is the side that will contain the filling), with the wider base sides facing away from each other, then overlap the leaves to make 1 long strip. There should be 3-4” (8-10 cm) of individual leaf sticking out beyond the overlap on each side. A third of the way along the strip, pinch the side opposite from you and fold it into a cone shape, with the leaf sticking out from one end. Hold the cone using one hand and begin to add the filling with your other hand.
  • Add 2-3 tablespoons of rice to the bottom and press it up against the sides to create a small well. Add a piece of pork (make sure every piece added has a chunk of fat), half a yolk, two quarters a shiitake, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of mung beans. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of rice over everything. Gently press and smooth as you do. There should be a 1/4” (1/2 cm) lip around the rice.
  • Take the open side of the zongzi between your thumb and index finger and fold the sides inwards, covering the rice. Fold the long leaves over the open area, tightening between your thumb and index finger to create a pointed triangular shape. Then flip the zongzi over and wrap the leaves around tightly to seal it. Wrap the zongzi in a piece of twine, making sure it is cinching any area where the leaf might come loose, and tie it off. For extra security, you can use another piece of twine to wrap the zongzi again, crosswise.

Cook the zongzi

  • Cook on the stovetop: Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the zongzi. Return the pot to a low simmer and cook covered for 3 hours (4 if the zongzi are very large).
  • Cook in an Instant Pot: Add the zongzi to an Instant Pot and water to cover. Close the lid and make sure the valve is sealed. Choose “Manual” at “High Pressure” and set a timer for 1 hour. Once done, let the Instant Pot release the pressure naturally.
  • Drain the zongzi from the water and serve hot.

Store and reheat

  • Store cooked and wrapped zongzi in an airtight container or Ziplock bag in the fridge for 5 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months. To reheat, thaw the zongzi completely in the fridge overnight. Boil the zongzi in water until heated through, 15 to 20 minutes. You can heat up the unwrapped zongzi in a microwave as well.

Notes

  1. You will use fewer leaves in reality, but it’s always good to soak a few extras so you have enough later in case some of the leaves rip apart.
  2. It’s very important to use short grain sweet rice. See the blog post above to understand the difference.
  3. Traditional zongzi always use pork belly. The fat will eventually melt into the rice to create a delicious taste. If you wish to use a leaner cut of pork, loin or pork chop with a big chunk of fat attached is a good option too.

Nutrition

Serving: 1zongzi | Calories: 314kcal | Carbohydrates: 49.6g | Protein: 14.1g | Fat: 5.7g | Saturated Fat: 2.1g | Cholesterol: 124mg | Sodium: 470mg | Potassium: 290mg | Fiber: 3.3g | Sugar: 2.8g | Calcium: 35mg | Iron: 1mg

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

Other dishes to make for Dragon Boat Festival

Lilja Walter is a part of the Omnivore’s Cookbook team and worked closely with Maggie to develop and test this recipe.

Disclosure

Omnivore's Cookbook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
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Meet Maggie

Hi I'm Maggie Zhu! Welcome to my site about modern Chinese cooking - including street food, family recipes, and restaurant dishes. I take a less labor-intensive approach while maintaining the taste and look of the dish. I am originally from Beijing, and now cook from my New York kitchen.

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One thought on “Pork Zongzi (Cantonese Savory Sticky Rice Dumplings)

  1. Laura | Wandercooks

    5 stars
    Oh wow I can’t wait to make these at home! We first tried them from a street seller in Taiwan during Chinese New Year – at the time we had no idea what they were or what was in store, but the flavour is one we’ll never forget. Thanks for the recipe and such detailed instructions, I feel ready to tackle them now! 🙂

    Reply