There is a special traditional Chinese food associated with the Duan Wu holiday when the dragon boat races are held. It is called zongzi. We went shopping in the Neihu day market for zongzi before heading out to watch the dragon boat races in Taipei on Sunday.
Zongzi is a traditional Chinese food made of sticky rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with string. Zongzi are commonly made in a tetrahedral shape. Zongzi are cooked by steaming or boiling, and then are easy to reheat in a microwave. Wrapping a zongzi neatly is not easy to do, as I have tried many times! While traditional zongzi are wrapped in bamboo leaves, lotus, banana, and other types of large, flat leaves can also be used to wrap the zongzi. Each type of leaf imparts its own unique smell and flavor to the rice
The fillings used for zongzi can vary, and the recipes are often handed down in families,(similar to stuffing recipes used to stuff Thanksgiving turkeys in the USA). Fillings can include,salted egg yolks, chestnuts, taro, shredded pork or chicken, Chinese sausage, pork fat, peanuts, and shiitake mushrooms.
Zongzi fillings can also be sweet, making the zongzi more dessert-like. These sweet fillings are usually made with red bean paste, tapioca, or taro.
There was also lychees and dragon fruit for sale in the market. Lychees are in season and only available in June and July, similar to the cherry season in the USA. I believe that the dragon fruit season is longer, perhaps from June until October. I was happy to see both of these types of fruit in the day market, as they are two of my favorites!
The largest dragon boat festival in the area is in Taipei Dragon Boat Festival at Dajia Riverside Park. It is also the oldest continuous festival in the Taipei area. It was happening from May 31 until June 2, and had many international teams competing in the races.
The great thing about the Dragon Boat Festival area in Dajia Park is that it has a lot of shade. It is very, very hot already in Taipei at the beginning of June! Dajia Park has both highway overpasses and permanent pavilions that shade large areas of this riverside park. I appreciated having many spots where I could be in the shade! There were also tents and awnings set up alongside of the river.
The use of dragon boats for racing is believed by anthropologists to have originated in southern central China more than 2500 years ago, in Dongting Lake and along the banks of the Chang Jiang (now called the Yangtze River). The celebration was an important part of the ancient Chinese agricultural society, celebrating the summer rice planting.
I think that Duan Wu in Chinese refers to the Summer Solstice. Wu refers to the sun at its highest position in the sky during the day. Duan refers to upright or directly overhead. So Duan Wu is an ancient reference to the maximum position of the sun in the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year or summer solstice.
Both the sun and the dragon are considered to be male. (The moon and the mythical phoenix are considered to be female.) The sun and the dragon are at their most potent during this time of the year, so this was the cause for celebrations such as dragon boat racing.
Of the twelve animals which make up the traditional Chinese zodiac, only the dragon is a mythical creature. Dragons were traditionally believed to be the rulers of water on earth; rivers, lakes, and seas.Tthey also were thought to rule the waters of the sky; clouds, mists, and rains.
Worshipping the dragon deity by holding races was meant to avoid misfortune and encourage rainfall which was needed for the crops that had been planted.
In addition to the dragon boat races, there were other activities going on during the three day festival in Taipei. There were performances on the stage, a zongzi-wrapping competition, and an egg-standing contest. I would have liked to watch the zongzi-wrapping competition, but it took place on Saturday when we were watching the dragon races in Tainan. And the egg-standing contest took place on Monday. So while we were there, we watched many dragon races and a few performances on the stage.
Then we did the most traditional Taiwan festival activity and went to find something good to eat in the food vendor area! There are many vendors offering snacks, along with some very cute food trucks made from modified VW vans!
The Taipei Dragon Boat Festival in Dajia Park had something else to aid in a more recent tradition, the photo op! There was a full size dragon boat, surrounded by flowers and plants, in the middle of a grassy area of the park. Everyone could line up here to take family photos or selfies with the dragon boat behind them. I liked this photo that I took of Jeff with the dragon boat so much that it has been the wallpaper photo on my computer and iPad for the last month!