I still remember the first time I tried Xiao Long Bao. It was at Shanghai Cuisine in Chinatown. They had a cute little comic strip on the proper way to eat soup dumplings. I was intrigued and quickly hooked. I have been in search for the perfect Xiao Long Bao ever since. One of my favorite places for Xiao Long Bao is in New Jersey. It’s Petite Soo Chow. Their soup dumplings are just large enough, with a thin skin and delicious filling. I like them better than Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao which everyone and their mother swears is the best. I digress…This got me to thinking of all the other different types of dumplings out there. If you have not tried these lovely pockets of deliciousness, you should. Make December a “Dumpling December” and get back to me once you’ve tried them all:
Chao shou (抄手)
These Sichuan poached wontons are drizzled with a toasted chili oil, pepper corns, and scallions. Their name means “crossed hands” which gives you an idea into how they are made. The skin is at first folded into a triangle, then the corners are folded across so they look like crossed hands.
Guo tie (锅贴)
These have a crustier, thicker skin than shui jiao. Guo tie are traditionally pan-fried in a wok (Guo) for a crispy bottom; and steamed on the top. They are usually filled with pork, bok choi, leeks or cabbage.
Har gow (虾饺)
Har gow are translucent dumplings filled with shrimp. The best Har gow will have a skin that is just thick enough to wedge between chopsticks without ripping it apart. They should never be chewy or too sticky. Har gow are supposed to have seven to ten pleats on the wrapper. For ultimate flavor, add a drop of red vinegar.
Hun tun (馄饨)
The name means “wonton”. These are usually prepared in two classic ways. They can be carefully folded large wontons filled with bok choi or wild watercress and minced pork. They can also be “xiao wonton,” tiny dumplings served with a cilantro and sesame oil broth. The Cantonese version is usually filled with shrimp and served with a side of egg noodles in the soup.
These mutton dumplings are not so well known, but completely worth discovery. Manti tend to be smaller, but quite tasty. They are found in Central Asia, but also in places like Armenia and Turkey.
These Tibetan dumplings are more substantial dumplings. Their fillings can consist of potatoes, minced vegetables, ground chicken, yak, beef. The fillings are usually speiced with ginger, coriander and garlic. Momos can be round or moon-shaped. Usually they can be steamed or fried, and served with a sepen (chili sauce) and a bowl of broth.
Shao mai (烧卖)
These dumplings are shaped like a money bag and are traditionally filled with pork, although this is not an exclusive filling. During the Qing Dynasty, fillings changed seasonally; garlic chives in the spring, lamb and pumpkin in the summer, crab meat in the fall, and mixed seafood in winter. There are plenty of varieties of “Shumai”, but the basic premise is the same.
Sheng jian (生煎)
Dumplings for breakfast. I say heck yeah! Especially if they are Shen jiang or if you are in Shanghai. These are served in a large black pan which is covered with a heavy wooden lid. These dumplings usually contain sesame and green onion. The bottom of this dumpling should be seared to crispness. Did I mention they are similar to Xiao Long Bao? Yup, these are also filled with an aspic that turns to soup during cooking.
Shui jiao (水饺)
This one is a boiled dumpling usually consumed in northern China. It is a special treat to celebrate the Lunar New Year, filled with pork and vegetables. Like Greeks and their New Year’s Vasilopita, it is customary to hide a coin in one dumpling. Whoever gets the coin (and does not choke) is said to be lucky for the coming year.
Tang tuan (汤团或元宵)
If you sit down to a circular, viscous dumpling, you’ve probably got a Tang tuan. These soup dumplings are basically a glutinous rice flour ball, stuffed with fillings which can be either sweet or savory. Sweet Tang Tuans are traditionally filled with sesame paste, or powdered peanuts. Savory Tang Tuans are filled with pork and scallions. They signify family and are eaten on the last day of Lunar New Year, known as the Lantern festival.
Xiao long bao (小笼包)
These are my ultimate favorite dumplings. Pork filling and aspic (gelatinized broth) are stuffed into the wrappers. The dumplings are steamed, causing the aspic (solid) to melt into soup. While this is not the “correct” way to eat them, it is my favorite way to do so: pick up dumpling, place on soup spoon, poke a hole so the soup comes out, slurp…once cooled down, bite in and enjoy.
Zheng jiao (蒸饺)
There are quite a number of varieties of Zheng jiaos. Typically, they are filled with minced meat and vegetables. These dumplings are steamed in a bamboo round.