We went to May May Food on Pell Street to pick up some steamed vegetable buns when this display caught our eye. Chinese-style tamales?
According to The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, tamales are "an important feature of Mexican food and date back to pre-Columbian times. A specially prepared cornmeal dough, usually stuffed with something but something cooked 'blind', is steamed inside little (or not so little) package of carefully trimmed corn husks or similar wrapping such as banana leaf." So the tamale comparison certainly works: A Chinese "tamale," or zongzi (or joong), is filled with glutinous rice and a stuffing (savory like pork or sweet like sweetened red bean paste), wrapped in bamboo leaves. Tied with a string, they are steamed or boiled and traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival.
You may have seen and/or eaten nor my gai, a lotus leaf-wrapped sticky rice filled with things like chicken, vegetables, pork, or shrimp, at dim sum in Chinatown. Nor my gai is the "Cantonese style tamale", usually steamed because the lotus leaf delicately wraps around the rice.
Our favorite zongzi usually fall on the savory side of the palate, which ones do you like?