Cambodia: Zongzi becomes a tool of affection relay 2008-06-07 12:24:30   Print

    By Xia Lin

    PHNOM PENH, June 7 (Xinhua) -- Top herbal wine producer of Cambodia Ear Cheam Heng has ordered dozens of Zongzi on eve of the Dragon Boat Festival on June 8 as seasonal gifts for his friends, business partners as well as relatives.

    "The Zongzi was well-made, because I ordered it from the Old Place Seafood Restaurant, the most genuine Cantonese cooking place in town," he said.

    Each time the festival comes, Ear Cheam Heng would like to treat his personal and commercial friends with this typical Chinese food, to foster closer ties and lubricate his business environment.

    In China, people have the tradition to have Zongzi a pyramid-shaped dumpling made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves, during the Dragon Boat Festival which was designed to commemorate an ancient major-pillar poet.

    In Cambodia, where around 7 percent of its 14 million population are thought as Chinese Cambodians and some 200,000 Chinese people from the mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan get employed in various industries, the tradition enjoys rebirth and even wide-ranging popularity.

    Chinese restaurants usually bear the top notch in the Zongzi craze, as owners can be the happiest harvesters in the particular season.

    Robin Chang from Taiwan has been running catering trade in Phnom Penh for years. He is fortunate to marry Madame Chang, who insists on making all the meat-mushroom zongzi selling at their restaurant by herself.

    And, their advertisement on local newspapers looks totally different from those of others.

    "It is hand-made, not by staff members, but by my wife herself," his recipe can always be retold, but never replicated elsewhere in town.

    Other bosses can't find so trustworthy and professional hands, so they turn to rely on multifarious, sometimes luxurious fillings that gourmand can find as surprise while eating Zongzi

    One restaurant run by local Chinese Cambodians is marketing Zongzi stuffed with super yolk, another by immigrants from Beijing adopts red bean and bacon, and a third, or the boldest, directly puts in abalone and sea cucumber.

    As a common understanding, Zongzi can be sold not only as alternative or classic food, but as spiritual pacifier.

    "If you miss hometown and family, why not have a Zongzi of ours? It cures your homesickness," Zongzi advertisements usually read like this.

    They are truly affective while appealing to the mass Chinese people working in garment factories and for hydro-electric projects.

    A local Chinese-Cambodian enterprise even invented the idea of selling Zongzi to raise charity money for the earthquake victims in Sichuan province, China.

    "No matter you buy one or a lot more, your care can be always felt in there, because it is not ordinary Zongzi but charity Zongzi reads a letter from the enterprise for local people.

    Really, Zongzi can do more than stuffing stomach. It comforts and enriches your mind.

    Commercial News, the longest running Chinese-language daily newspaper in Cambodia, on June 6 published a whole page of stories about Zongzi elaborating on its origin, style, cookery and health hints.

    "When the stories are read, the tradition and the culture are preserved and inherited," said editor in chief Liu Xiaoguang.

    Out of coincidence or mutual influence, local ethnic Khmers also enshrine the habit of making and eating Zongzi which is called in Cambodian language as Num Chang if in pyramid shape and Num Sawm if in rectangular shape.

    The pronunciations derive from the Chaozhou dialect of China. Most Chinese Cambodians are rooted in Chaozhou, a region in Guangdong province in southern China.

    However, either Num Chang or Num Sawm only contains minced glutinous rice inside bamboo leaves, without any filling. The rice is soaked in alkali water and tastes a little bitter. So, refined white sugar is a necessity when you enjoy a Cambodian Zongzi

    When a countryside person returns to Phnom Penh for work, he will always bring some home-made Num Chang for his boss and colleagues.

    "Rice and bamboo leaves from outside the city always taste fresh, natural and true," said Socheat, a maid serving foreign family in town.

    Zongzi is food in its original sense and can become a tool of affection relay when we study its social sense, said Eang Heng, a 68-year-old Chinese Cambodian who was born here and traveled in most provinces of China when he was young.

    "Whether in China or Cambodia, it may look different, but just plays the same role," he added.

Editor: Sun Yunlong
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