Photos by Rochelle Li, Words by Kiersten Utegg
One of the most common appetizers in Chinese cuisine is the dumpling. Personally, dumplings are my favorite Chinese food and I order them every single time I want some eastern flavor. Eating a dumpling must be a delicate task. I see many people simply putting the entire dumpling into their mouths after dunking it into the ginger sauce provided.
Technically, there is no right way to eat a dumpling, but, at the risk of sounding preachy, in my opinion, small bites work best. Holding the slightly slippery, doughy dumpling in one hand, dunking it into a cup of ginger sauce and then bringing it up to the mouth, you take the first bite. The thin layer of dough easily parts allowing the savory contents (usually a mix of meat and vegetables) to fall onto your taste buds. The vegetables found within give the bite a slight crunch while the finely ground meats sooth the bite into a gentle symphony. Each chew brings out new juices and new flavors until, before you know it, the bite of dumpling has disappeared into your stomach. What you are left with in your hand is half of a dumpling, revealing the sizzling sauces and ingredients of the center that make the dumpling taste so desirable. While the inside of the dumpling is what gives most of the flavor, the outer dough exterior is vital to the performance of the dumpling. The layer must be thin enough not to overpower the ingredients but it must be strong enough to hold all of the contents inside. The perfect dumpling does not fall apart when a small bite is taken out of it. Everything stays in its place as you dunk it into the sweet and salty ginger sauce once, twice, maybe even three times more.
If anyone, like myself, did not know, there are many different types of Chinese dumplings. The most common is called the Jiaozi. This dumpling is crescent shaped with pleated edges and can be boiled, pan fried or steamed. It is commonly prepared in northern Chinese households on New Years Eve to be eaten after midnight as a family. The other popular dumpling is referred to as the Potsticker. This dumpling is pan fried on one side and steamed on the other. Its contents are similar to that of the Jiaozi—meats and vegetables. Other types of dumplings include Har Gow, shrimp and bamboo wrapped in a nearly translucent shiny dough made of wheat starch, Siu Mai, a dumpling usually consisting of pork wrapped in a cup shaped dough with the ingredients sticking out the top, and Shanghai Steamed Buns, famously juicy steamed dumplings with intricately folded dough exterior. Every dumpling has something different to offer its consumer.
Even though the dumplings house many ingredients, they are surprisingly light, making them the perfect appetizer for a Chinese meal. Next time you are craving some eastern flare, split a plate of dumplings with some friends at a dumpling house in Boston’s Chinatown. They are scattered around this small section of Boston at almost every corner and many have great reviews on Yelp. As the school year winds down, make a trip to this cultural scene and immerse yourself in the savory juicy goodness found within the thin smooth dough of the dumpling.