By The Loop HK
Want to experience something unique in Hong Kong? The annual Dragon Boat Carnival and its adrenaline-inducing races are quite the affair to remember. Every year in Hong Kong, rowers take to the waters to partake in exhilarating races, which have historically been held on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month — the anniversary of the death of famed Chinese poet Qu Yuan.
Read on for a quick cultural guide to the event as well as an intro to the official festival food mascot: the zongzi dumpling.
Here are some fun facts about the Dragon Boat Carnival, according to Cindy Tsui, Vice Honorary Secretary of the Hong Kong China Dragon Boat Association and member of the Hong Kong Women’s Dragon Boat Team:
- Dragon boating as a modern sport began right here in Hong Kong. The first international dragon boat races were held in 1976 in this city. A Japanese team was invited to compete alongside nine local teams — kickstarting modern-day dragon boat competitions around the globe. The event has grown over the years and today The CCB (Asia) Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races are part of the three-day Dragon Boat Carnival, which includes several other fun events at Central Harbourfront and throughout Hong Kong.
- These days, most race-friendly boats are made out of fiberglass instead of wood. However, the design of the traditional wooden boats is usually more intricate. If you’re interested in checking out wooden boats in action, head to the Sun Life Stanley International Dragon Boat Championships (Stanley Main Beach, 7 June).
- It’s certainly thrilling to watch teams race towards the finish line, but the start of the race is an equally gripping part of the competition. The first five strokes are the biggest indicator of team spirit: When you see teammates sharing the same rhythm and masterfully synchronising their energies, you know you’re witnessing something magical!
- Dragon boating has been a long-standing tradition among fishing communities to appease the Gods. To appreciate this ritual up close, head to The Dragon Boat Water Parade of Tai O (Tai O, 7 June).
Eating zongzi — rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves — is a big part of the Dragon Boat Festival too. Legend has it that after the poet Qu Yuan died by jumping into the river, heartbroken villagers threw rice packets into the water to deter hungry fish away from his body.
The rice packets eventually became the zongzi that Hongkongers enjoy during the festival. Here are some of the best places to try them:
Lin Heung Kui
For something more traditional, visit old-school Lin Heung Kui for a classic interpretation of the savoury zongzi, filled with glutinous rice, mung beans, pork and salted egg yolk. This is one of the most beloved zongzi flavours among locals, and is served with sugar or soy sauce. Follow it up with the sweet zongzi, stuffed with Lin Heung Kui’s famous lotus seed paste.
- 50 Des Voeux Road West, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island
For those of you looking to treat yourself with a deluxe zongzi experience, look no further than The Peninsula’s Cantonese restaurant Spring Moon. The Michelin-starred restaurant offers zongzi in four indulgent flavours every year. The savoury dumplings are prepared with luxurious ingredients such as abalone sauce and Yunnan ham, and are also boiled in a rich broth rather than in water.
- The Peninsula, 22 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
Tsui Hang Village
For a more innovative take on the Cantonese treat, head to Tsui Hang Village to try its signature kumquat sweet zongzi. Instead of a traditional lotus seed or red bean paste filling, the restaurant chooses to use honey-preserved kumquat and homemade kumquat puree, creating a lovely balance of acidity and sweetness. Don’t forget to top it off with the homemade honey kumquat sauce!
- 22/F Lee Theatre, 99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong Island
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