上海鲜肉粽子 Zong Zi – Shanghai Style

Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus d上海鲜肉粽子 (Shang Hai Xian Rou Zong Zi) translates to Shanghai pork zong zi. What is this strange pyramid shaped thing? It’s a gift. It’s breakfast. It’s comfort food to be devoured in celebration for 端午节 (Duan Wu Jie), or Dragonboat Festival. This year, it falls on June 20th, this upcoming Saturday. Visit any Chinese supermarket and you’ll find vacuum packed zongzi. Or, you can make it simply at home.Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dI call Zongzi a gift because it’s always been one to me. I used to think it was the coolest food in the world – that you are presented with a neat fragrant package, smoke still curling up from the zongzi, completely with two bows to untie. Despite scalding fingers, I’d always quickly undo the bows with one quick tug and then gently unfold the sticky rice from the bamboo leaves. When you unfold it, it literally tumbles out onto your plate. My mom always sent me with a bag of these to give to cousins, my best friend’s family, my boyfriend (now husband)’s family – anyone who would care for some zongzi. Very quickly, they became famous. They were my mom’s thing. Actually, along with the shaomai she would always freeze and send along with me to college, these zongzi also made their way from California to St Louis, and I had such pleasure not only eating them, a mouthful of comfort and memories away from home, but also introducing this uncommon treat to my friends. If you’re in the Boston area, let me know and I’ll send you away with a bag of these as well :). Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai style zongzi is distinctive because they are smaller and usually only have pork belly. In this recipe, I chose to just use pork butt in the interest of staying a tiny bit healthier (don’t start!). My mom used to make it with pork belly as well, and you make it in the exact same way. However, the result is different – the fat from the pork belly melts into the rice and the rice, like a sponge, just takes on that distinctive flavor and taste. Using pork butt doesn’t quite give that melty pudding-like texture, but I’d say the taste is similar enough. There are so many different types of zongzi. The Woks of Life published the Cantonese style zongzi, which has peanuts, chinese sausage, and egg yolks. There’s another type of Shanghai style zongzi that is sweet. Because no soy sauce is used, the resulting zongzi is a pearly white but stuffed with either mung beans or red bean paste. Sometimes it’s even dipped in a plate of sugar before eating. This is entirely personal preference, but my favorite is the simple, pork zongzi. Nothing but sticky rice and marinated pork. Bamboo leaves are a must. It’s not zongzi without being wrapped in bamboo leaves. You can find dried bamboo leaves in any Chinese supermarket.

First step: The night before, soak both the bamboo leaves and the sticky rice in cold water, submerged. You can also marinate the meat, but that is up to you. I marinated it for 2 hours. Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dThe hardest part about this recipe is the wrapping process. As usual, I took an excessive amount of photos because I want to truly let you see this process. So, please bear with me as I try to explain, step by step, this intricate but timeless wrapping process.

Trip the ends – about 1″ off.
Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dPlace them on top of each other, with an offset. Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dUse your thumbs to make an indent and fold over to make a cone.
Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dGrab a handful of marinated sticky rice and stuff it in the cone. I always try to reach for the sticky rice at the bottom, because it’s more submerged in the marinade.
Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus d Place a couple pieces of pork on top.
Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dAnd just cover again with another handful of rice! Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dWrap by folding the leaves over and then wrapping the overhanging edges over the zongzi.Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dUse your left hand’s thumb and pinky to hold the overhanging leaves in place, and then use kitchen twine to tie leaves in place, twice. I use my teeth to old one edge then use the whole ball to wrap the loop several times. Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dAfter this, just wrap the rest of the zongzi up! I always end up with more than enough pork, but that’s simple: place it in a saucepan with some star anise and some extra water (about half way up the meat) and bring it to a boil. Then turn to low and simmer, covered, until fork-tender. Delicious with rice. Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dAfter all the zongzi are wrapped, place them in a large stockpot and submerge them in water. Bring to a boil and then turn to low and simmer, covered for 8 hours. The water should be gurgling but not at a full rolling boil. And then enjoy!! Your kitchen will be permeated with the aromatic, heady smell of pork and bamboo.
Shanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus dShanghai-Style-ZongZi | le jus d


  • If the leaves rip, discard it and use a new one
  • You don’t need to tie it too tightly – just secure enough that it won’t fall apart
  • I like to do it in a half bow shoelace style so that when you’re eating it, you can just tug on one string and it comes apart
  • This makes a pretty small batch – about 8 zongzi. If you are giving these out by the bagful, then I’d recommend at least doubling the recipe! You can keep the pork + marinade amount the same, as you’ll have extra
  • For remaining marinaded pork: Place in a saucepan, fill it up halfway with water, throw in some star anise and whatever other flavoring you want, and bring to a boil. Then, turn to low and simmer, covered, until fork tender. I generally just let it go for 2-3 hours!

RECIPE: 上海鲜肉粽子 Shanghai Style Pork ZongZi

Full disclosure: this recipe is from my mom!!! But when I made it, Alex loved it and ate most of it, but he said he could immediately could tell it was different. I’m OK with it, because I know my mom’s version is the golden standard, and I could only ever hope to recreate something from her :). Chinese cooking is very instinctual. My mom never gives me recipes but just shows me how to do it. From then, I play around with proportions until it tastes similar :).

dried bamboo leaves, soaked overnight
3 cups sticky rice, soaked overnight
1lb pork butt (boneless)

marinade for pork
1/4 – 1/2 cup light soy sauce
3 heaping tsp granulated sugar
3 slices fresh ginger
4 fresh scallions, chopped roughly
3 tbsp shoaxing cooking wine

marinade for sticky rice
1/2 cup light soy sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar

1| The night before:  soak bamboo leaves and sticky rice in cold water, submerged, overnight.
2| Cut pork butt into 2″ x 1cm pieces, and remove most of the fat. Marinade for 1-2 hours, or overnight.
3| Drain sticky rice and place in marinade for 1 hour.
4| Wrap according to instructions above
5| Place wrapped zongzi in a large stockpot, covered with water. Bring to a boil then turn to low and simmer, covered, for 8 hours.
6| Turn off heat and leave, covered, in the cooking water, until the next morning.
7| Rinse zongzi and let drain for an hour. Then, store in fridge or freeze
8| To reheat: boil or steam, or microwave!


black walnut board by Michael’s Woodcraft

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  • kaleandcaramel

    This is absolutely gorgeous, Betty. That shot of you holding the tray of zong zi towards the end is everything. I’m so inspired by everything here—the beautiful storytelling, the moody photography, the way you honor your mother and her food. It’s nourishment beyond recipe.ReplyCancel

  • Ah, I’m curious about the pork butt substitution! Did you find that the meat got as tender as pork belly does? I guess it is being cooked via indirect heat for 8 hours, so probably yes.ReplyCancel

    • Hi Jessica! Thanks for asking – it is SO TENDER. If you look at one of the photos with the zongzi ripped open, see how the pork just flays open like that? I barely touched it with my chopstick. It just fell apart at the slightest touch. Seriously so tender.ReplyCancel

  • OMG. I had one of these for the first time ever last year when one of my Chinese friends’ mom’s made a bunch for her to give out for her friends. They’re amazing. Like an Asian lunchables or something, lol. But better! Much better.

    Gorgeous photos as usual, Betty — as usual, I’m loving all the detail and step-by-step process shots. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I feel like I’m in the kitchen with you when I read your blog!ReplyCancel

  • Your photos are beautiful and the smell descriptions!!! It’s like I’m smelling it myself. Definitely brings back the memories of my grandmother making these! Ugh I wish I was in the Boston area! Would love a bag of these!’ReplyCancel

    • Ah yes I feel like one of the best parts about family recipes is the nostalgia and memories associated with it. I’m really loving all the comments about their own family’s experience making these :)ReplyCancel

  • I’m soooo excited to try out this recipe!!! Just e-mailed it to my dad and sisters too, we all loved the Shanghai style zongzi my grandmother used to make and its been ages…I want to say at least 8 years since I’ve had some. But still vividly remember how amazing they are, you really don’t need anything else except for the meltingly soft pork and sticky dark rice :)ReplyCancel

  • Omg, Betty. My dreams have come true!! This was always my favorite dish growing up. I don’t know how I hadn’t thought to make it at home before–but now you’ve given me no excuse (p.s. thank you for such detailed how-to shots)! So much love for this post!!ReplyCancel

  • oh how i wish we would live in the boston area now 😀 never tried these before, but it looks and sounds so delicious!! and gorgeous photography – love the soft tones.ReplyCancel

  • Betty, this is amazing. It’s almost daring me to try making true tamales, which is whathe the wrapping reminds me of. Even though his don’t taste like your mom’s, it’s a beautiful thing that you’ve assumed the zongzi making mantle. Beautiful and delicious-looking as always.ReplyCancel

  • omg, i love everything about this post. your photos are beyond gorgeous and i’m obsessed with those little sticky rice pyramids. and that meat looks so so tender. i wish i had a freezer full of them. seriously, how’d you know that sticky rice pyramids (that’s what i call them because i never knew their real name) are my faves!?ReplyCancel

  • This is so great! I love learning about new dishes and cooking styles from your posts, as I had never heard of zong zi before this. Sounds and looks delicious though!ReplyCancel

  • Betty, this post made me smile from ear to ear!! It brings back so many wonderful memories from my childhood. You and your mom are such talents!! <3<3<3 Your recipes, esp the Chinese ones, kick some serious butt.ReplyCancel

  • Seriously in awe of every photo you post– on the blog, Instagram, Facebook. Managing to shoot lovely pictures that also demonstrate specific processes is a real challenge for me, but seeing how you nail it every time keeps me motivated! You have a beautiful eye, and are so inspiring.ReplyCancel

  • Gahhhhh this looks soooooo insanely delicious!!!! I can’t wait to make this or at least give it a try soon, I hope!! *fingers crossed* And the photos are soo gorgeous they somehow, strangely, crazily, take me back to countries I’ve been to like India and Myanmar! I know totally unrelated countries but the pics make me feel like I’m cooking with the ladies in their small crowded kitchen once again. 😀 Bravisimo, girl.ReplyCancel

  • Roxi

    Hi Betty, I am so glad you posted this authentic recipe of Shanghainese zongzhi. The recipe is exactly how I remember my parents making them back when I was little … I left Shanghai in 1987 and have not tasted thsee since then. I was just wondering if it’s possible to cut down on the lengthy cooking time by using a pressure cooker. A friend of mine boiled hers under pressure for 45 min on high and left it under pressure overnight. Do you think this can work with all raw ingredients? Thanks.ReplyCancel

  • Addie

    Just wanted to let you know that I used your recipe to the T for the meat marinade because we were making fan tuan for a group of friends. Marinated boneless pork ribs for 2 hours and then stir-fried them. When I first took them out, we lamented that we couldn’t eat pork raw because it not only smelled amazing, it looked amazing!

    I had people who were allergic to soy and onions keep eating the meat even though they knew they’d regret it because of how delicious it was. I hope they’re okay :pReplyCancel

    • Oh my goodness what good news! I myself love that marinade… so glad you gave it a try!ReplyCancel

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