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What Is a Dumpling? The History Behind This Delicious Food

What Is a Dumpling? The History Behind This Delicious Food


Chinese dumplings, or jiaozi, are one of the most historic foods in existence. Much of the food we eat today has only been around for a few hundred years, but the Chinese have made jiaozi for over 2000 years. 


Dumplings are delicious with each bite – they’re warm, savory, beautiful, and a fantastic addition to a meal. Today, we will give you a brief rundown of the famous Chinese dumpling. 

 

What Are Dumplings?

The concept of a dumpling is fairly simple. The most broad definition out there describes a dumpling as a small amount of some sort of dough that is boiled, fried, or steamed.


These dumplings are also wrapped in a very specific way. Using the circle wrapper, the dumplings are wrapped in a crescent shape. Along the rounded edge, there are specific pleats. 

 

What Is the History of Dumplings?

The exact origin story of dumplings isn’t quite clear, although a few legends exist about their creation. But we know dumpling consumption is thought to have begun around 200 BCE during the Han Dynasty. The Chinese had figured out how to grind flour about 300 years earlier, which led to noodles and, eventually, dumplings. 


Some say that the first dumplings were made with lamb and pepper, but since then, they have adapted. Most dumplings now have a pork mixture as their filling.


In China, wheat was considered a delicacy, so only the wealthy elite ate dumplings. But by 500 CE, the production of wheat and ground wheat had grown, so dumplings became more accessible. 


It is around this time that we see the first mention of a dumpling that was “shaped like a half-moon and…was passed around the world.” Since then, not much has changed about the way dumplings are made.

 

Where Did Dumplings Originate?

Dumplings are thought to have been created in Northern China. Eventually they moved south to the Cantonese, who were the first Chinese immigrants to America, and brought their dumplings with them. As a result, this led to their popularization in the US.

 

What Are the Traditions Surrounding Dumplings?

Because of their long history, many traditions surround jiaozi. The most popular tradition we see today is to eat them with the Lunar New Year celebrations.


Dumplings slightly resemble the shape of a type of golden ingot that was used as a currency in China hundreds of years ago. For this reason, dumplings are a symbol of wealth and prosperity. 


For the Lunar New Year, the Chinese ring in their new year with this symbol, hoping to mark the next year with financial blessing.

 

How Can Dumplings Be Cooked?

Dumplings can be cooked in various ways, depending on what application you’re going to use them for. Let’s look at the three main ways they are cooked. 

 

Boiled

Boiled dumplings are quite common but not to be eaten on their own. When you boil dumplings, they are most often put into dumpling soup. The rich broth combined with the savory, filling dumplings makes for a dish that will warm you to the bone and leave your stomach satisfied. 

 

Pan-Fried

Many people will often pan-fry their dumplings as well. In China, this is a less common method of cooking dumplings. Fried food tends to be a bit less popular, and some consider it to be associated with lower-class food. 


However, when the Japanese were introduced to jiaozi, they put their own spin on things and renamed the dumpling “gyoza.” One of their main methods of cooking dumplings is pan-frying them. 


In both Chinese and Japanese cooking, the dumpling is placed in an oiled skillet and fried until golden brown on the bottom. Then a bit of water is placed in the pan, and a lid is put over the top. The steam cooks the dumplings the rest of the way. 

 

Steamed

Perhaps the most common way to cook dumplings is by steaming them. Steamed dumplings are incredibly warm and have a super soft texture. It’s like biting into a pillow of umami and flavor! 


The dumplings are placed in bamboo steaming baskets and placed over a pot of boiling water. The steam rises through the basket, cooking the dumpling all the way through. This method is a healthy way to cook your dumplings. It certainly cuts out a lot of fat. 

 

What Is the Skin of Dumplings Made Of?

Dumpling skins are made of only a few simple ingredients: wheat flour, water, and sometimes salt. This simple unleavened dough holds together fairly well, and it can get sticky enough to seal the fillings inside. 


If you want to make your own dumpling wrappers, the process is simple enough, but pre-made dumpling wrappers are also great (and convenient!) options. 

 

What Fillings Can Be Used in Dumplings?

Dumplings can be filled with all sorts of different fillings. Perhaps the most common is pork or cabbage, but you can customize your dumplings however you like!

 

Beef

Beef dumplings are a great option. Beef pairs great with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and other common flavors that are added to filling. 


But you might find that your beef filling can get a little dry compared to pork, which has a higher fat content. Simply add a little bit of beef or chicken stock to your filling to add in some extra moisture. 

 

Fish

Seafood is incredibly popular in China, and that extends into their dumplings. You might see some mackerel added to your pork dumpling filling, or perhaps some finely minced shrimp. 


Occasionally, you’ll see fish or shrimp on their own in a filling, seasoned with ginger, scallions, and soy sauce. 

 

Cabbage

Cabbage, specifically napa cabbage, is a common dumpling filling. Napa cabbage has a more mild and subtle flavor than regular cabbage. Cabbage steams well for a nice, soft texture and pleasant sweetness. 


Finely chopped cabbage commonly accompanies ground pork inside your dumplings, but you might also see vegetarian and vegan options with cabbage, carrots, onions, and other veggies. 

 

Mushrooms

If you’re looking for a little extra umami in your dumplings, adding mushrooms is a great call. Some delicious shiitake mushrooms can add a savory, smoky flavor that can tie the whole thing together. 


Mushrooms go great with beef or pork. Simply finely chop some mushrooms and mix them in for that extra kick of flavor.

 

Pork

Ground pork is, far and away, the most common dumpling filling you’ll find. It’s high in fat, making for an incredibly juicy and flavorful dumpling. Not to mention, it pairs wonderfully with soy sauce, green onions, ginger, sesame oil, and most other Asian ingredients. 

 

Celery

Some finely chopped celery is a great ingredient to add if you want some variance in the texture of your filling. It can add a subtly bright flavor and a pleasant crunch that many people enjoy.  Celery works great with cabbage and carrots in a vegetarian dumpling. 

 

How Should Dumplings Be Served?

There are many ways you can serve your dumplings. Many people like to serve them straight in the steamer. They simply bring the bamboo steaming basket out to the table with the dumplings still inside. The diners grab their dumplings with chopsticks, dip them in the sauce, and enjoy. 


You can also serve dumplings in a bowl smothered with your sauce already. This way, the dumplings are ready to eat right away and can be garnished with things like sesame seeds, green onions, or furikake. 

 

What Sauces Can I Use To Eat Dumplings With?

There are so many dipping sauces you can eat your dumplings with. It’s really up to you and your flavor preferences. 


For a savory yet acidic dip, you can mix soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, green onions, garlic, and ginger. This will give you a great depth of flavor. 


You could also make garlic chili oil. Finely mince some garlic and some green onions and put them into a bowl. Add some chili flakes and pour hot oil over the top, stirring the ingredients together to flash cook them in oil, releasing the flavors, and you’re done. 


It’s a simple way to get some garlicky, spicy flavors onto your dumpling.


You can also use ponzu, which is a fermented soy sauce enhanced with citrus flavors. It has a great balance of savory, salty, and tangy flavors that pair great with pork dumplings. 

 

The Bottom Line

Dumplings are absolutely delicious, and their rich history serves to make an even more fantastic meal. If you want to pick up some frozen dumplings for home or get some ingredients to make your own jiaozi from scratch, head over to Umamicart


We’re an online Asian grocery store that delivers right to your door so that you can have quality ingredients and groceries with ease!



Sources

Basic Dumpling Dough | Fresh Farm 

Jiaozi (Chinese Dumplings) and Flour Quality Requirements—An Introduction | Cereal Foods World

Wonton | Origin | Hamilton College

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