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The Dumpling Dictionary

Currently a work in progress…

Like many Chinese kids, I grew up eating home made dumplings. We’d make hundreds at a time and freeze them, and those that didn’t get frozen I would eat for breakfast, after-school snack and dinner, until I got sick of that particular batch.

But growing up in New Zealand in the early 90s, my young friends were confused by these mysterious white edible parcels!

Today, by contrast, if you live anywhere in the vicinity of a metropolitan city, you’ve probably had at least basic exposure to the wonderful world of dumpling consumption.

However, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In Melbourne, for example, the majority of the more popular restaurants will serve dumplings of the Northern Chinese variety. Called “jiaozi”, these are rather deformed-looking things with often low quality minced meat, thick doughy skins, boiled or pan-fried, and very cheap. As but a social dumpling eater here, you’d be forgiven for mistaking these for the only dumplings of Asian origin in existence; and if you’re not a fan of the gluey texture of jiaozi wrappers, you might actually think you don’t like dumplings!

The truth is, saying you don’t like dumplings is almost as broad a statement as saying you don’t like music. The real questions: Where from? What wrapping style? How cooked? What kind of dough? How thick? How big? What kind of filling? How heavily stuffed? Open or closed?

Hence, the Dumpling Dictionary was conceived! – so that all dumpling noobs and casual Dumplinites can graduate into intermediate dumpling amateurism.

Name Looks like… Origin Description

Dumplings Worldwide Traditionally, this referred to lumps of dough that the British liked to eat with suet (animal fat).
While the original meaning was basically… cooked dough, with or without either filling, or seasoning through the dough, Asian cuisine in the English-speaking world has hijacked the word in the last century so that today “dumpling” is usually used to describe any food encased in a wrapper of any shape or form.

Dim Sums China (Guandong) The literal meaning of dim sum is “snack”. They are small dishes served in yum cha, a morning/afternoon tea tradition originating in Guandong and Hong Kong. One of the most popular classes of dim sum are various types of dumplings, usually steamed, arriving in threes, fours or fives in bamboo steamers. Well-known types of dim sum dumplings include har gow and siu mai.

Gyoza Japan Gyoza is simply Japanese for “jiao zi” – however, the Japanese have put their own delicate touches on their version of this traditionally Chinese dish. The wrapper is usually thinner and more delicate, less “doughy”, and the meat more finely minced. There can be a wide variety of fillings in gyoza and they have a distinctly Japanese flavour compared to their Chinese counterparts.

Hargow China (Guandong) “Har gow” is a very popular type of dim sum. A steamed prawn dumpling wrapped in a dough made not from rice flour as widely believed, but from a mixture of wheat starch and tapioca starch which gives it its signature translucent (not clear) appearance. Making the perfect har gow wrapper is a science and an art – too thick and it becomes opaque, dry and loses its delicacy; too thin and it falls apart while being handled. Har gow are also marked by their decorative “pleats”, which showcase the artistic skill of the dumpling chef.

Jiaozi China Originating in China, mostly popular in the northern provinces, jiaozi are one of the most widely seen Asian dumplings the world over. Many will just know these as “Chinese dumplings”. The “wrapper” is made from white wheat flour and can be quite “doughy” and thick, but does depend on the recipe. Possibilities for fillings are endless, but one very popular option is pork with cabbage or chives. Jiaozi can be boiled (shui jiao), steamed (zheng jiao) or pan-fried (guotie or jian jiao).

Momo Nepal Nepalese cuisine has strong Chinese and Tibetan influences, and these dumplings are one of those adopted and adapted traditions. Momos are popular in Nepal, Tibet, Ladhak, Bhutan and parts of North-East India. The dough is made from plain wheat white flour and in shape they are usually round parcels, often folded closed in a circular form at the top. They are filled with minced meat and usually coriander, shallots/onion and/or other vegetables. Authentic meat options include chicken, pork, goat, buffalo, lamb and yak.dd

Siumai China The most well known version of siu mai is of Cantonese origin – a dumpling comprised of ground pork, shrimp/prawn, Chinese mushrooms, with various decorative toppings, encased in a thin, yellow-ish wrapper. In Cantonese yum cha, it is considered a dim sum.

Xiao Long Bao China (Shanghai) Now a popular yum cha dish, xiao long bao are known for having a pocket of hot soup surrounding the filling, enveloped by a very thin wrapper. “Xiao” means “small” while “long” refers to the bamboo steamers they are cooked and served in. Because of its size and fine wrapper, they are often considered dumplings rather than true “bao”. A good XLB is judged by the delicacy of its dough and the flavour of the broth inside. The Taiwanese chain “Din Tai Fung“, beginning as a roadside stall in Taipei, is largely responsible for the worldwide popularisation of xiao long bao.

More dumplings to come soon…