Saturday, Sep 19

Volunteers recall hardship of making zongzi

May 21, 2019 | Jonas Trinidad

The art of making Machang is difficult, as Tzu Chi volunteer Isabelita Ang (right) attests. It was only through three years of guidance and constant practice was she able to make a more appealing dumpling. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • Tzu Chi volunteers at the Jing Si Hall are in full swing making zongzi, rice dumplings filled with several viands, and selling them to help fund the foundation’s future projects.

  • More than simply making the dumplings, the activity has been a learning experience for some volunteers, as zongzi is a difficult dish to make.


As with the past years, Tzu Chi volunteers are making the traditional Machang or rice dumplings for charity.

Tzu Chi volunteers in the kitchenhave been making this Chinese delicacy since late May in preparation for the Dragon Boat Festival which falls on June 7 this year.

The history of the Machang (Zongzi) can be traced back to the Warring States Period of ancient China. In the court of the Kingdom of Chu, there lived a poet and politician named Qu Yuan. Known for his straightforward wisdom, he was exiled by the court he served for slander. He despaired as he watched Chu’s downfall, going so far as to plunge himself into the Miluo River. To keep his body from being eaten by fish, people threw rice into the river for them to feed on. This tradition likewise evolved into the Dragon Boat Festival.

Since then, the dumpling has become synonymous with Qu Yuan and the ideals he stood for, namely patriotism and selflessness. Every fifth day of May (in the lunar calendar), zongzi (Machang) is among the food eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival.

Tzu Chi’s Machang is vegetarian which enjoys a good review amongst the local connoisseurs for many years. The dumpling is a generous helping of sticky rice, garbanzos, mushrooms, and veggie-meat, wrapped in bamboo leaves and boiled to perfection.

Funds raised from the machangs this year will be used in the reconstruction of the Tzu Chi Great Love Campus in Sta. Mesa, Bacood Manila. These machang are sold by a bundle of 10to help raise money for Tzu Chi’s future projects. A piece costs Php100, while a bundle of ten costs Php1,000.

Tzu Chi volunteer Lu Lee Ching, head of the Jing Si Hall’s kitchen, leads the collective effort. She made her first zongzi in 2005, back when the hall itself was still under construction. She admitted to the steep learning curve of mastering the recipe.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity of making zongzi. In my childhood, I would see how the other children made this dish. It taught me a lot, and now I’m making it to sell to raise funds for Tzu Chi,” said Lu.

She’s imparting her wisdom unto the younger generation of volunteers, expected to keep the long-standing tradition alive. Fellow volunteer Isabelita Ang started making zongzi in 2015. Even she admitted to the difficulty of making one, inspired to work harder with every “ugly” dumpling she made back then.

“I’m very happy this year that [Lu] told me that my zongzi’s better than last year. I’m grateful to her and the entire kitchen for teaching me this,” said Ang.

  • Bamboo leaves are commonly used to wrap Machang. According to legend, a fisherman dreamt of Quan Yu who told him to wrap the rice in wormwood leaves. 【Photo by Abraham Torres】

  • Tzu Chi volunteer Lu Lee Ching cooks the sticky rice to fill up the Machang. She hopes to impart 14 years of her expertise in making the dumpling unto the next generation. 【Photo by Abraham Torres】

  • Anything can be put into machang. But in Tzu Chi's case, their take on the traditional sticky rice dumpling involves substituting meat with veggie-meat. 【Photo by Abraham Torres】

  • The first batch of machang are cooked in boiling water. Succeeding batches will be using the same stock for this season. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • After 35 minutes, the machangare taken out of the boiling pot. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The machang are then hanged to cool. They would be sold at Php100 a piece, with a bundle of ten costing Php1,000. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】