The stories about the origin of China's Duanwu Festival (Dragonboat Festival) vary depending on the teller.

There are tales of suicide, sacrifice and an accidental drowning.

The Tucson Chinese Cultural Center will stick with the child-friendly fairy-tale version at Saturday's eighth annual Dragonboat Festival.

That story recalls a beloved servant of the emperor who dies and is buried at sea. The story has it that for years on the anniversary of his death, people paddled their dragonboats to the middle of the sea and dropped dumplings (called zongzi) to keep the fish from eating the man's body.

The ocean pilgrimage is no longer widely practiced, but those dumplings and the festival are celebrated around the globe - including in Tucson.

"Being in the Southwest, we call them Chinese tamales because they are wrapped," says Patsy Lee, who on Monday coordinated a team of volunteers to make 800 Chinese tamales for Saturday's festival.

The center will sell the tamales and Asian-infused hot dogs for $5 apiece during the festival. Money benefits the center's seniors programs.

The Chinese tamale shares a philosophy with its Hispanic cousin with some distinct differences:

• Tamales are wrapped in cornhusks; Chinese tamales are wrapped in bamboo leaves.

• Masa (made from corn) is the base for tamales; sticky rice anchors the Chinese version.

• Meat and/or chiles are usually stuffed into tamales; meats, veggies and fruit sometimes share billing in the Chinese tamale.

"We're kind of traditional. Northern China, they just put vegetables and some kind of fig or fruit. But since most of us are from southern China, we put Chinese sausage, a piece of ham, salt pork, a salty egg yolk, Chinese black mushrooms, regular pork and peanuts," Lee said.

Lee and her volunteers spent hours Monday making the tamales for Saturday's festival. The tamales, which were boiled for four hours, will be served with macaroni salad.

This will be the first Dragonboat Festival to include an Asian-infused hot dog - a frankfurter you can top with seaweed, ginger slaw, teriyaki sauce, a sweet chile paste and other Asian tastes.

The center sold them at last year's Tucson Meet Yourself festival.

"It was very successful," said Susan Chan, the center's volunteer administrator and Dragonboat Festival coordinator.

Festival-goers can opt for regular frankfurters or Chinese sausage, which also will be featured in a Chinese version of the dough-wrapped pig in a blanket.

"It's fat and juicy and it's not healthy," Chan said, describing the sausage. "But it's good. It's definitely a delicacy."

"That Chinese sausage is going to turn some people off," added Lee. "It's spicy, strong and very fatty. It's fatty to the point you can see the fat. It scares this younger generation that won't eat anything with fat. But it is so good."

Saturday's festival also includes the indoor dragonboat races. Kids will race balsa wood boats propelled by balloons in a track made of PVC pipes.

"Normally you actually race a canoe, but we don't have that in Tucson," joked Chan.

Last year, 40 kids participated in the race.

The festival in past years has attracted several hundred people. Chan said she is hoping the addition of the hot dogs will attract even more people this year.

"We're trying to get people to know our culture a little bit more and our holiday," she said. "It's a little hard in the summertime."

If you go

• What: Dragonboat Festival 2013.

• When: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Tucson Chinese Cultural Center, 1288 W. River Road.

• Cost: Free admission; food for purchase. $15 for kids to enter the dragonboat races, which includes the dragonboat and lunch.

• Details, registration: For more information or to reserve a spot in the dragonboat races, call 292-6900.

• Et cetera: The Dragonboat Festival piggybacks Tucson's Juneteenth celebrations - commemorating the announcement of the end of slavery in Texas - with the Rolling History Party. The bus tour, which takes off from the Chinese Cultural Center at 4:30 p.m., will stop at five downtown locations, including corner grocery stores where the African-American and Chinese histories intersected. The $15 cost includes an Asian hot dog before departure.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642.