The Dragon Boat Festival is an homage to ancient traditions and is celebrated with pomp, joy and fabulous fare.
Legends over 2,000 years old still fire up today’s imagination, celebrations and appetites. The Dragon Boat Festival is one such folktale; it is amongst the brightest and most energetic of Chinese festivities, falling on 9th June this year. It’s known by a number of names, the most common being the Double Fifth Festival, as it traditionally falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in a traditional lunar calendar.
Celebrated by Chinese communities around the world, it is, like most festivals, highlighted by an exhaustive menu of delectable food , among other activities, the dragon boat races notwithstanding. While the adrenaline rush of watching intensely coloured dragon boats skim rapidly through rivers in a race to the finish is a thrilling ride, it’s the stimulation of the senses (taste, sight, smell and touch) taken care of by sticky rice dumplings called zongzi, fan-shaped wheat delicacies known as mianshanzi, fried jiandui, whisper thin pancakes, and rice cakes or dagao that gives this day a truly commemorative feel.
The origin of the Dragon Boat Festival lies mired in romance and adventure. The most common story connected with the festival is about one of China’s first known poets, as well as a royal minister, Qu Yuan (340–278 BC). A political upheaval lead to his exile and eventually his disfavour in the royal court, driving Qu Yuan to commit suicide by drowning in the Miluo River. His shocked local admirers pushed out their boats to try and rescue him, but when they realised that they were too late, they threw sticky rice zongzi into the river in the hope that the fish ate those instead of their beloved poet. Millennia later, his death is commemorated by the boats that still figuratively race out to try and rescue him, but instead of fish food the dumplings are now a delicacy for the onlookers.
The dragon is incidentally also representative of the sun in Chinese mythology, a symbol of strength and masculinity, just as the phoenix is a feminine energy. The fire breathing dragon therefore becomes a metaphor for the summer solstice, while the winter solstice is reserved for the phoenix. The Dragon Boat Festival’s timing is more than just a symbolic gesture, distilled from thousands of years ago in ancient China. The sentiment extends to new beginnings, further marked by elegant ceremonies to ward off evil, disease and misfortune, with Chinese medicinal herbs hung around the house and children blessed with silk threads and perfumed bags.
As with all festivals, each celebration is an homage to the past, to the traditions that have led us to the present. As a fiery blur of oars propel a dragon forward in water, and zongzi dumplings stuffed with red bean paste are enjoyed by onlookers, it’s impossible not to raise a toast of rice realgar wine to the stories that gave rise to all of it in the first place.
Yauatcha Mumbai, Yauatcha New Delhi, Yauatcha Kolkata and Yauatcha Bengaluru are celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival throughout June with a limited edition menu of sticky rice zongzi alongside a dessert and cocktail inspired by the rice wine during this festive time.