Dragon Boat Festival Food

The Dragon Boat Festival has a great and rich diet tradition. Let’s explore some of the delicacies, including zongzi, enjoyed across China during the festival.

Dragon Boat Festival Food
Eat and Drinks on the Dragon Boat Festival

What Food do people eat in the Dragon Boat Festival?


Zongzi / Joong / Chinese sticky rice dumpling (粽子zòng zǐ)

It is highly traditional in China to eat zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival. Several days before Duanwu, every household makes and eats zongzi, with their interesting shapes and tempting tastes. The shapes of zongzi are varied, such as a long strip with four corners or a pyramid. Bamboo leaves impart their unique aroma and flavor to the glutinous rice. Read further details on Zongzi

Eggs Steamed with Tea/ Salted Duck Eggs

Tea egg is a recipe that uses hard-boiled eggs which are cracked and soaked in tea and spices, and they are usually steamed with zongzi in a pot. People like eating tea eggs after zongzi.

Tea Eggs
Tea Eggs 茶叶蛋/茶葉蛋 chá yè dàn

In some areas in China, people also eat Salted Duck Eggs with zongzi. Salted Duck Eggs are eggs that are submerged in a salt mixture for 30 to 60 days. Good Salted Duck Eggs are with solid white that’s not too salty and a perfect egg yolk that’s oily and golden orange in color.

Salted Duck Eggs
Salted Duck Eggs 咸鸭蛋/鹹鴨蛋 xián yā dàn

Dagao – Glutinous Rice Cakes

Dagao 打糕 dǎ gāo

Glutinous rice cakes are eaten by people in the Korean ethnic group living in Yanbian Prefecture in China’s northeastern Jilin province. The glutinous rice is steamed with the herb mugwort and then it is thumped into the sticky rice cake. It tastes delicious and has a chewy texture.

Fried Eel Slices

Fried Eel Slices
Fried Eel Slices 炒鳝鱼片/炒鱔魚片 chǎo shàn yú piàn

The practice of eating eel during the festival prevails in central China’s Wuhan region. Eels are probably eaten simply because they are in season during the festival. People enjoy the flavor and the tender, fatty texture, and they are also rich in nutrition.

Jiandui – Fried Cakes

Fried Cakes 煎堆 jiān duī

In eastern China’s Fujian Province, during the Duanwu Festival, every family eats Jiandui which are fried cakes made from mixed paste of flour and sweet potato powder.


Pancakes 薄饼/薄餅 báo bǐng

In eastern China’s Wenzhou area, pancakes are made of refined white flour cooked in a flat pan, with green bean sprouts, leek, and shredded meat. Mushrooms are filled with the thin and translucent pastry. When you roll it up, you can taste a different flavor in each bite.

What drinks are most symbolic of the Dragon Boat Festival?

Realgar Wine 雄黄酒/雄黃酒 xióng huáng jiǔ

Realgar wine

Realgar wine is made by infusin into baijiu or huangjiu. Realgar's main components are arsenic sulfide and mercury, which are toxic. It was used as an antidote and insecticide in ancient times, believed to repel snakes, scorpions, and other creatures.

An old poem says: "唯有儿时不可忘 wéi yǒu ér shí bú kě wàng,持艾簪蒲额头王 chí ài zān pú é tóu wáng。" This means that on this special day, children would carry mugwort, wear acorns calamus, and have a "王" character written on their foreheads with realgar wine to ward off evil and prevent disease.

In China, there is a old saying, "Drinking realgar wine keeps all diseases at bay." Generally, the realgar wine consumed is baijiu or huangjiu with a trace amount of realgar added, which has certain antibacterial properties.

The legend of the White Snake tells of a white snake revealing her true form after drinking realgar wine given to her by her husband Xuxian during the Dragon Boat Festival. Although a myth, this story is based on realgar's alleged ability to ward off evil and disease.

Cinnabar Wine 朱砂酒/硃砂酒 zhū shā jiǔ

Like realgar, cinnabar is a toxic mineral with some medicinal value. Ancient Chinese believed that cinnabar was also a substance of warding off evil, and made it into cinnabar wine. However, it was gradually replaced by realgar wine during the Qing Dynasty for various reasons, and is now rarely consumed.

Huangjiu 黄酒/黃酒 huáng jiǔ

Shaoxing Huangjiu
Nv Er Hong (女儿红 nǚ ér hóng) is a famous local traditional Hunagjiu from Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province.

As both realgar and cinnabar are toxic, they should only be used in small amounts when infusing wine, as excessive amounts can lead to poisoning. Many people have not been able to accurately gauge these amounts, so Huangjiu has become a popular substitute during the Dragon Boat Festival. Realgar or cinnabar wine is often used to draw the "王" character on the foreheads or arms of children to ward off evil spirits, while the wine itself serves to sanitize courtyards and repel snakes and insects.

Acorus Calamus Wine 菖蒲酒 chāng pú jiǔ

Acorus Calamus Wine, also known as Changhua wine (菖华酒/菖華酒 chāng huá jiǔ) , is made by steeping the fresh roots of acorus calamus in bailie. Sometimes, acorus calamus is used as the main medicinal ingredient, combined with ginger, apricots, and perilla, to create a medicinal wine after being soaked in bailie or huangjiu. The book "Zunsheng Bafang" by Gao Lian during the Ming Dynasty contains detailed records of the preparation and uses of acorns calamus wine.

Ancient Chinese believed that acorns calamus had similar protective powers to mugwort. Thus, acorns calamus wine became a popular drink during the Dragon Boat Festival to ward off evil spirits and disasters. Additionally, people would hang acorns calamus and mugwort leaves on either side of their doors to wish for health and safety upon their families.

Note: Alcohol consumption needs to be consumed in moderation, with modest amounts. Children and teenagers should not drink alcohol.

Herb Roots Soup 药根汤/藥根湯 yào gēn tāng

Yunnan Yao Gen Tang
Yunnan Yao Gen Tang | Lingfei San - A combination of Chinese herbs, usually contains Ginseng, Cinnamon Twigs, Peony, Licorice, Tangerine Peel and Aged Tangerine Peel.

In Yunnan province, locals are skilled at incorporating various Chinese medicinal herbs into their dishes. Even ordinary families often add medicinal ingredients while cooking, providing beneficial health effects. During the Dragon Boat Festival, Yunnan locals choose to drink Herb Roots Soup.

Particularly in Pu'er, Yunnan, the celebration sees markets filled with the fragrance of herbs. Each household prepares Herb Roots Soup, combining over ten types of herbs with ribs and chicken, resulting in a delicious, nutritious soup that also nourishes the body.

Note: Need to cook the soup with an understanding of pharmacology, to avoid poisoning.

What are the popular beverage choices for the modern celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival?

Traditional Dragon Boat Festival drinks may have some unfavorable factors, causing people's preferences to change as their living conditions improve. The younger generation now prefers popular drinks which are more aligned with modern tastes. These new preferences reflect the influence of contemporary lifestyles on traditional celebrations. Below are some popular drinks and their recipes.

Fruit Tea

During the Dragon Boat Festival, enjoy fruit tea made from ripe fruits. It has a sweet and sour taste that can relieve greasiness and enhance beauty.

  • Ingredients: apples, oranges, watermelon, lemon, lime, oolong tea, rock sugar
  • Method: Add all ingredients to the water and boil together.

Honey Hawthorn Drink

Drinking hawthorn cha during the festival is great for people with reduced appetite due to temperature changes.

  • Ingredients: Dried hawthorn, Honey, Goji berries (Chinese wolfberry)
  • Method: Place an appropriate amount of hawthorn and goji berries in a cup. Pour in boiling water. Add honey when the water temperature drops to a warm level that doesn't scald the mouth.

Green Tea

During the Dragon Boat Festival, sitting around the table with family, brew a cup of green tea for a nature-inspired experience. Explore further on Types of Chinese Tea.

  • Ingredients: Green tea
  • Simmer with 85°C warm water.

Rose Flower Tea

Rose flower tea is a stomach-soothing drink that many enjoy during the festival.

  • Ingredients: Rose flowers
  • Method: Add 2-3 flowers to a cup and simmer for 3 minutes.

Barley Tea

Barley tea helps with digestion during the festival when eating glutinous rice zongzi.

  • Ingredients: Fried barley
  • Method: Add barley to a cup, pour in boiling water and brew for 10 to 20 minutes. Optionally, add rock sugar water.

Homemade Lemon Iced Tea

Lemon iced tea helps with appetite, hydration, and relieving heat during the festival. It contains a lot of absorbable vitamin C, which can promote blood circulation.

  • Ingredients: Lemon slices, Black tea, Honey, Ice cubes
  • Method: After the water boils, add black tea and boil for five minutes. Remove the tea leaves and let it cool down. Then, place it in the freezer for quick cooling until it reaches freezing point, and move it to the refrigerator. Crush the lemon to extract its juice and filter the lemon juice. Add the lemon juice and honey to the chilled black tea, stir well, and finally add lemon slices and ice cubes.

Various homemade carbonated waters (such as homemade lychee lemon sparkling water)

Before and after the festival, lychees are ripe in lychee season. Lychee fruit flesh is sweet and juicy. In addition to direct consumption, it is used to make lychee fruit drinks. Drinking a glass of sparkling water on a hot day is also extremely pleasant.

  • Ingredients: Fresh lychee, Sprite, lemon slices
  • Method: Freeze the lychee slightly, put the lychee and lemon in the cup, add chilled Sprite, and stir.

Discover more about Chinese Beverages.

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