Every year when Dragon Boat Festival rolls around, I have zongzi, or Chinese rice tamales as some people dub it, on the brain. Ask most people where their favorite zongzi is and the answer will be "homemade" or "my mom's" which makes sense, but doesn't help those who don't have any skilled relatives to rely on during Dragon Boat Festival.
Luckily, for those of us living in Taipei, we have the next best thing to homemade, which is zongzi made by clans of nimble fingered aunties as fast as they can. I usually also eat homemade zongzi, but this year I did my own zongzi food crawl to find a few options that ended up surprising me. Here are a few places you can hunt down zongzi today, but don't forget to pick up some sweet chili sauce to complete the experience.
Nanmen Market (南門市場)
Nanmen Market is a mecca for zongzi lovers, with 5-6 different shops specializing in zongzi at this traditional market. NanYuan, a 56-year-old shop inside the market, is so popular that they set up an additional pop up area in the courtyard where people wind up and down the stairs waiting to buy zongzi from the grandma who started the business.
While waiting in line, customers can watch them wrap and steam the huge batches of zongzi. Customers who don't have time to wait can buy from the competitor next door, or from the busy shops inside.
NanMen Market, 8 Roosevelt Road, Sec. 1
(Customers waiting in line for zongzi last week at NanYuan at NanMen Market, photo by @hungryintaipei)
(NanMen market, photo by @hungryintaipei)
Jiu Ru is known for their sesame and peanut tangyuan during Lantern Festival, but they also serve up a variety of zongzi year round. The zongzi here are given to customers at room temperature or cold to re-steam at home, but you can also ask for hot ones to go or to dine in.
Their pork and salted egg yolk rice dumpling also has a layer of soft peanuts and their sticky rice is softer than a few of the other places I tried. Jiu Ru sells 10 different variations of zongzi, from NT$40-110.
Jiu Ru, 69 RenAi Rd., Sec. 4, (02) 2751-7666
(Pork and salted egg yolk zongzi with peanuts from Jiu Ru (NT$85), photo by @hungryintaipei)
I found this vendor by accident, a couple who has been making zongzi for around 30 years near the end of the Yongchun Market, an outdoor farmers market in an alley in Xinyi District. The husband patiently explained the different types he had, such as the Hakka style sweet zongzi, as his wife stirred ingredients for a new batch.
The zongzi here are more Taiwanese style, with additional ingredients like mushrooms, pickled radish, dried shrimp along with the pork and salted egg yolk (NT$45-60). Because I grew up with layered flavors like these, this was one of my favorite finds.
Zongzi vendor at Yongchun Market, photo by @hungryintaipei)
Four Happy (四喜食品行)
When I finally found Four Happy, located on the second floor at the XinYi/Daan street market, I knew I was in the right place when I spotted a few aunties with bags full of zongzi coming down the stairs. Waiting in line in the dark hallway with fluorescent lights, I felt like I was waiting in line for something illicit, as if it was the black market for zongzi.
If you want to buy where the aunties buy zongzi, then this is your spot. I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of them tried to pass them off as their own, as they are the next best thing to homemade with four ladies folding leaves and filling them with large pieces of pork and salted egg yolk.
Four Happy's red bean paste zongzi is one of the best dessert versions I've had. Thanks to my friend Josie (@josiejournal) for recommending her favorite shop to me.
Four Happy Rice Dumplings, No. 60之46號 Xinyi Road, Sec. 4, (02)2707-2530
(pork and salted egg zongzi, photo by @hungryintaipei)
Forget Unicorn Frappuccinos, Starbucks in Taiwan has mini zongzis packaged in Starbucks embossed canvas lunchbox style bags. With drink inspired flavors like matcha with red bean or matcha with hazelnut and almonds, these dessert zongzi are meant to be eaten cold. Starbucks doesn't even try to compete with homemade styles, by making their own modern spin on it for their 2 million plus Facebook followers instead (6 for NT$580).
Starbucks Taiwan, multiple locations, http://www.starbucks.com.tw/products/festival/17_dragon-boat/17_dragon-boat.jspx
(photo by Starbucks Taiwan)
The Regent Taipei offers up eight different kinds of zongzi, as well as luxe box sets for gifting, from classic dongpo pork to a western variation with truffle and beef. There are three different seafood options, including spicy Sichuan pepper seafood or abalone with mushroom, lotus seeds and organic Pingtung pork.
Dessert zongzi has red bean with purple sticky rice. Box sets from NT$180-980 are available for gifting until June 1.
(Photo by Regent Taipei's Facebook)
DIN TAI FUNG
Kill two birds with one stone by eating your zongzi along with some xiao long bao. Din Tai Fung's one ingredient zongzi seems simple, but ensures that the filling is plentiful. I've ordered their pork rou zong or sweet red bean zongzi on occasion even when it wasn't Dragon Boat Festival.
Din Tai Fung, Taipei 101 and multiple locations, http://www.dintaifung.tw/store/en-taiwan.html