China’s signature snack is the dumpling. But when people use the word dumpling, what are they actually referring to? There are tons of different kinds of meat and vegetables cooked in small wrappers, so how do you pick between them? Here’s a handy guide to all of the different types of dumplings in China.
Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao) 小笼包
Soup Dumplings originated in the Shanghai suburb of Nanxiang and are widely known today as a Shanghai specialty. The classic Xiaolongbao is made with pork and a thin wrapper. The soup inside comes from adding meat stock that has been cooled and became gelatin-like. When it is steamed in the bamboo basket, the soup gelatin melts back into delicious savory soup.
The traditional way to eat soup dumplings is to dunk it in a soy sauce and vinegar mix with ginger, poke a hole in the wrapper and let some juice leak out into a spoon. Eat the xiaolongbao then drink the soup right after.
Guan Tang Bao 灌汤包
Similar to the Xiaolongbao, Tangbao have meat stock soup inside along with some pork (usually). The different is the wrapper is thicker and the entire bun is much bigger. You buy them in single buns and they come with a straw sticking out of the top. It’s a popular street snack at tourist attractions.
To eat it, you typically drink all of the soup out of the bun first. Be careful, as fresh ones will be very hot! Then you can eat the wrapper and meat inside when all the soup is gone.
Steamed Jiao Zi 蒸饺
Probably the most generic form of dumpling, jiaozi are steamed with ground meat and vegetables inside a thin wrapper crimped at the top. For chefs, steaming dumplings is preferred for aesthetic reasons. The steaming process allows them to keep their cresent shape and beautiful pleats. It’s important to eat them while they’re still hot so they don’t cool and become rubbery.
Har Gow 虾饺
Har Gow is a popular dumpling found in Cantonese Dim Sum. Har Gow are filled with shrimp, the skin is mostly transparent and folded like a clam. Traditional Har Gow should have at least 7 but preferrably 10 pleats in it. It is often served with Shaomai (below) in Dim Sum and is said to be one of the tests of a truly skilled Dim Sum chef.
Shao Mai 烧卖
Similar to Har Gow above, Shao Mai is another popular steamed dumpling found in Dim Sum. Typically filled with pork, shrimp, green onion and mushroom, it is garnished with an orange “dot” of crab roe or carrot or a green “dot” of pea. Unlike most other dumplings, the wrapper is made from a thin lye water dough and isn’t closed all the way.
Other variations of the dumpling come from Hohhot (Inner Mongolia), Hunan, Xinjiang and Shanghai.
Boiled Jiao Zi 水饺
Shui Jiao are the boiled brothers of the steamed dumplings. The ingredients and raw makeup of the dumplings are exactly the same, but instead of being steamed, these are boiled. However, unlike the rest of the boiled dumplings, it’s usually served out of water. While the steamed Jiaozi maintain solid shape, boiled jiaozi are much more flimsy. They are perfect when dipped in vinegar.
Egg Dumplings 蛋饺
Egg dumplings are just like jiaozi but their wrapper is made of egg using a special method. A raw egg is cracked into a ladle over a flame. When the small omelete has been mostly cooked, the filling is inserted and the egg is carefully folded. The entire dumpling is put in boiling water and gently stirred so that they don’t stick to the pot. They can be eaten alone or in hot pot or malatang!
Wontons are a part of many different regional Chinese cuisines all with their own style. In Shanghai, they are called Large Wontons filled with minced pork and bok choy. In Sichuan, they are folded like a triangles and served with sesame paste and chili oil. Wontons are most known in Cantonese cuisine, and they are filled with minced shrimp and pork and served with thin noodles in soup. They all have one thing in common: they are folded and boiled to perfection.
Tang Yuan 汤圆
Tangyuan are a special occassion and dessert type of dumpling. The wrapper is made of glutinous rice flour and water. The flour is made into a ball and can be filled or unfilled. Typical fillings include chocolate, sesame paste, fruit, red bean paste, or chopped peanuts. Once the ball is formed, it is cooked in boiling water and served hot. The most popular varieties come from Ningbo and Wenzhou, and are commonly associated with Chinese New Year as eating them brings good luck.
Potstickers (Guo Tie) 锅贴
Potstickers are a popular Northern China street snack that has made its way all over China and Asia. Popular fillings include pork, cabbage, corn, chicken, scallions and ginger. The Northerners say good guo tie should be long, straight and open on both ends, but the folding style depends on region. They are pan-fried in a shallow wok with a small amount of water and covered. The result is dumplings that are crispy on the bottom and steamed on top. Dip them in soy sauce for maximum flavor.
Sheng Jian 生煎
Another Shanghai dumpling specialty, the Sheng Jian is a large pan fried dumpling. Classically eaten for breakfast, the Sheng Jian is described as a pan fried Xiao Long Bao (another Shanghai specialty). Usually filled with pork, shrimp or cabbage, these dumplings are also filled with soup.
The proper way to eat them is similar to Xiao Long Bao. As they are filled with soup that is very hot, if you bite right into it the soup will squirt out. It’s best to poke a small hole in the Sheng Jian, and either drink the soup out or catch it in a spoon for after.
Jian Jiao Zi 煎饺
The crispy cousin of the shui jiao and zheng jiao is jian jiao. It is typically served bottom up to highlight the crispiness and browning. Unlike the Guotie, these dumplings are the classic crescent shape. The raw dumplings are pan fried first, then water is added after to cook and steam the pork. Sometimes they are glazed and the crispy part is sweet.
Chive Box 韭菜盒子
The Chive Box dumpling is made with wheat flour and hot water to keep the dough from expanding. While the dough is being rolled out, chives are stir-fried, eggs are scrambled, and rice vermicelli is cooked. Once the ingredients are ready, they are put in the dough, folded over and crimped. They can be small enough to fit in your hand or big enough to eat as a whole meal.
Fried Wonton 炸馄饨
Cantonese wontons that don’t get eaten after being boiled go into the deep-fryer and get topped with sweet and sour sauce. While fried wontons are a popular appetizer in Chinese restaurants in other parts of the country, they are found in authentic Chinese cuisine. They are typically smaller and are almost like Chinese chips (crisps).
Yao Gok 油角
Cantonese cuisine has a special fried dumpling that is a popular snack during Chinese New Year. Originated in Guangdong, Yao Gok are now eaten in other Chinese communities like Hong Kong and Malaysia. The filling is made of peanut, sesame and coconut and the dumplings pile high during the celebrations. The every day version is filled with pork and is savory.
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