According to the Chinese lunar calendar, today is Duanwujie (端午節), or the Dragon Boat Festival. Celebrating this holiday includes eating zongzi (粽子), glutinous rice wrapped and cooked in bamboo leaves, racing dragon boats, and drinking realgar wine. I’ve never drank this wine before. Realgar is an arsenic sulfide mineral, the wine has the mineral mixed into it, and I’m pretty sure it would taste nasty.
My grandmother knows how to make zongzi. She is quite deft at it. The ones she’s made have rice, red beans, shitake mushrooms, and pork wrapped in bamboo leaves.
The festival’s origin usually goes like this: Qu Yuan (屈原) was a poet and statesman for the Chu Kingdom during the Warring States period (476-221 BCE) in China. He opposed the king s decision to ally with the increasingly powerful Qin state. The Qin state later unifies China under the rule of Qin Shi Huangdi, who later became paranoid about assassination attempts and built a huge clay army for his afterlife. Talk about fiscal irresponsibility.
So, the Chu king doesn’t listen to Qu Yuan and accuses him of treason. The statesman is exiled and spends his time writing poetry. Qu Yuan’s worst fears come true when Qin conquers Chu many years later. In protest of his corrupt government, he commits suicide by drowning himself into the Miluo River.
Hearing the awful news, the villagers paddled boats in search of Qu Yuan and threw rice into the river, supposedly to prevent the fish from nibbling at his body. (I’ll let you in on a secret. Fish actually hate zongzi. I fed them to my goldfish before. They die.)