IN RECENT years, dragon boat racing has been gaining popularity worldwide as a sport. But these races have a festive significance, in the form of the Dragon Boat Festival, which is a major celebration in the Chinese lunar calendar.
For a total experience combining the sport and the tradition, look no further than the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival. This annual event, organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) and co-organised by the Hong Kong China Dragon Boat Association (HKCDBA), is taking place for the 10th time this June.
The dragon boat, a long canoe carved with a decorative dragon head and tail, and painted with totems, embodies the venerable creature in Chinese mythology.
HKCDBA chairman Arnold Chung Chi Lok explains: “Traditionally, dragon boats and paddles are made from teak and camphorwood, and there are three different boat sizes. Today in international races, stronger fibreglass is used, and the boat size has been standardised.”
While dragon boat racing is now practised throughout the world year-round, Hong Kong is the first to organise invitation races, and has been hosting a major carnival since 2010 to promote the sport.
As Chung adds: “Hong Kong is the veritable home of dragon boat racing!”
In addition to well-known races in Stanley, Shatin and Aberdeen on June 7, the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival from June 14 to 16 is the culmination of the festivities. Expect to see vigorous battles among some of the world’s strongest dragon boat teams at the three-day carnival.
Chung, a former Hong Kong dragon boat team member and coach, says it is no easy feat to paddle in Victoria Harbour.
“The deep, choppy waters pose a great challenge. That said, the atmosphere is wonderful, especially when you see spectators lining the harbourfront to cheer on the teams.”
Besides the races, the carnival will also feature a fancy dress competition, while a fun-filled playground with a man-made beach, a splash area, a street food gala, as well as a newly-introduced artisanal market will be set up at the Central Harbourfront. And entrance is free for all!
The Dragon Boat Festival is incomplete without the festive food – glutinous rice dumplings – which is also a local delicacy.
Food writer Theresa Mak, who makes dumplings at home every Dragon Boat Festival, recalls: “In the 1940s and 50s, people were eating small, almost bite-size savoury dumplings made of glutinous rice, mung beans and braised pork belly.”
Today, the bigger, leaf-wrapped steamed rice dumplings which contain a greater variety of ingredients, from salted egg yolk to roast duck, roast pork, dried scallops, Jinhua ham and shiitake mushrooms, can easily feed two to three people.
Mak adds: “Another choice is the sweet lye water dumpling, made with yellow tinted sticky rice and a lotus paste filling.”
Other regional variations are also available in Hong Kong, such as Zhongshan’s reed-wrapped rice dumplings (above) and the famous Shanghainese rice dumplings from Jiaxing and Huzhou.
For more, visit the Discover Hong Kong website.