Aaaah, what can be more satisfying than biting into a perfect dumpling – the soft dough, the sensation of escaping steam, that first hit of flavorful filling. However, dumplings are not just tasty treats. They are also little pieces of magic when they manage to transform sometimes meager ingredients into substantial, delicious meals with just a little help from flour and water.
But What Exactly is a Dumpling?
Defining a real dumpling can be tricky. Are knishes, kreplach, empanadas, gnocchi, and ravioli, dumplings? They might be, but to home in on a true dumpling, two characteristics are necessary:
- – Dough must be wrapped around a filling.
- – The filled dough must only take three bites or fewer to eat.
China is the land of true dumplings that come in a multitude of varieties. The most common dumpling wrapper is made with wheat flour that is often combined with tapioca to provide stretch. The following describes some Chinese dumplings grouped according to two basic shapes, the crescent and the purse.
These dumplings are easily shaped by folding a thin, round circle of dough around a filling and pleating or crimping the edges together. They can be steamed, boiled, pan- or deep-fried. Here are a few types:
- – Guo Tie: Most Americans will say, “aha potstickers!” Guo tie are pan-fried to produce a golden brown, ultra-crisp bottom. The skin is springy and chewy and filled with a range of ingredients, the favorite being juicy pork and chives.
- – Shui Jiao: The name means “boiled dumpling.” These tender creations have a thin wrapper and are served in broth or drained and dipped in a sauce. Typical fillings include ground pork and vegetables.
- – Zheng Jiao: Steamed delicacies made with elegantly pleated translucent wrappers. They may contain shrimp, pork and chives, cabbage, or winter melon.
- – Har Gow: Plump and juicy dim sum favorites. Some dumpling-making expertise is needed as chunks of crisp shrimp should be just visible through the delicate, translucent dough.
- – Chiu-Chao Fun Gow: Crunchy treats – thin wrappers filled with a tasty mix of pork, shrimp, and peanuts. Cilantro and crisp chunks of jicama often add additional flavor.
So-called because the filled dough is pleated and drawn together like a draw-string purse. Here are some descriptions:
- – Siu Mai: Steamed, white-skinned dim sum classics. Juicy, open-topped concoctions filled with pork and/or shrimp and often enhanced with grated carrot, fish roe, or a single pea.
- – Jiu Cai Bau: Generously filled with peppery chives and pan-fried to produce a blistered, crisp crust.
- – Xiao Long Bao: The filling includes collagen-rich pork parts that produce a sticky, thick stock that solidifies when cooling and melts during steaming. It’s delightful to suck out the rich, savory soup from the dough before digging into the tender, springy meatball within.
- – Sheng Jian Bao: A popular Shanghai fried breakfast food or snack cooked with just enough water to steam the dumplings through. As the water evaporates, a tender, juice-filled treat with a golden, crisply fried bottom results.</li
Other Chinese Dumplings
There is an abundance of other differently-shaped Chinese dumpling treats. Here’s just a sampling.
- – Won Ton: Square-shaped won tons are common in soups, bobbing alongside noodles and cabbage. The filling is usually ground pork and/or shrimp. They can also be deep-fried and served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.
- – Haam Sui Gok: Made with a glutinous rice dough and deep-fried to produce a blistered, crispy exterior with a chewy, doughy layer underneath. A variety of savory or sweet fillings is used.
- – Wu Gok: Pretty fried pork dumplings made from frilly strands of purple taro. They’re a study in delicious contrasts – both savory and sweet and crisp and tender.
- – Tang Yuan: Sticky and sweet boiled rice dumplings. Typical fillings are rock candy, sesame or red bean paste, or peanuts. Usually added to sesame, sweet bean, or ginger soup.
The Influence of Chinese Dumplings
Over the centuries, Chinese dumpling culture has spread to neighboring countries that have developed their own unique dumplings:
- – mandu (Korea); gyoza (Japan); momo (Nepal and Tibet); samosa, guja, modak (India)
Dumplings have also traveled further abroad and include:
- – pierogis (Poland); pelmeni (Siberia); vareniki (Ukraine); khinkali (Georgia); manti (Turkey)
It’s simply impossible to list all the different types of dumplings but what is certain is that the rest of the world has a lot to thank China for.