There’s nothing like shared food, in this case, Chinese zhongzi–sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves–to nurture friendship. About 40 members and friends of the South Bay Chapter of the US-China People’s Friendship Association (USCPFA) gathered at the home of Santa Clara City Council Member Teresa O’Neill June 26 for a potluck dinner to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival and eat zhongzi.
Zhongzi are a special dish made during the Dragon Boat Festival, traditionally celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar. The festival honors the third century BC Chinese patriot and poet Qu Yuan, whose life story and poetry were shared at the potluck.
Cupertino resident Susan Man made 52 Cantonese-style zhongzi for the dinner, demonstrated her technique, then assisted those who wanted to make one themselves.
“Your bamboo leaf can make it or break it,” Man cautioned. “Boil it to sanitize and make it more pliable. Then soak it to shorten the cooking time.” The goal is to keep the leaf from splitting and spilling out the filling during cooking, which Man does in an electric pressure cooker.
Man fills the bamboo leaf with sticky rice and a selection of mung beans, peanuts, black-eyed peas, pork, sausages, mushrooms, dried shrimp and scallops, and salted duck eggs.
“I feed them to my family until they resist, give them away to my friends and freeze them [for] later use….Each zhongzi is good for a meal, especially nice when paired with a salad,” Man wrote in her recipe.
USCPFA (www.uscpfa.org) is a national, nonprofit educational organization to promote friendship and understanding between the people of China and the United States. The South Bay chapter organizes a monthly activity, often a potluck followed by a presentation about Chinese culture and history.
“USCPFA is a wonderful opportunity to meet caring and sharing people from China, the US, and folks from other countries who are interested in China and in getting to know their neighbors in this country better,” said Cupertino resident Bet Messmer. “The presentations have been amazingly varied as well as excellent.”
“I’ve always been interested in Asian art and went on a tour to China. The relationship between China and the U.S. is very important,” said potluck host O’Neill. “I’m interested in the history of the Chinese in America, in California. I have a lot of friends who are Chinese.”
“Many of us grew up without knowing about our own culture and what’s happening in China-U.S. relations,” said Hawaiian-born Shirley Lin.
Stanford University graduate student Yanshuo Zhang, who talked about the poetry of Qu Yuan, enjoyed the opportunity at the potluck to “meet people beyond academia.”
“People can have unofficial but very friendly and powerful interactions with one another,” said Zhang, from China.
“What makes this group interesting is that the members–about 50–have very distinguished achievements and interests. They’re from different backgrounds,” said Billy Lee, born in Shanghai. “I believe people can accept each other as friends even though there are certain things they may not agree with.”
South Bay chapter co-chair Winny Lin, born in Guilin, wants to share “the rich Chinese culture” with Americans.
“I love people. I don’t see any strangers. We all have something to offer, something in common,” said Lin. Visit www.uscpfa-sbay.blogspot.com for South Bay chapter information and, soon hopefully, Man’s zhongzi recipe.
“All Chinese are foodies. Chinese love to eat. Everyone is like a gourmet,” said Man. “Chinese are always figuring out what to eat next. American are always figuring out what to do next.”