Monday, March 24, 2008

Dumpling, I love you....

The gyoza we made the other night reminded me just how much I love dumplings. Not that I had really forgotten mind you - any time I can get my hands on some of these tasty little morsels I do. These little guys make me so happy, they just seem to make everything ok.

But what is one talking about exactly, when one speaks of dumplings? Is it the Polish pierogi or uszka or the Japanese gyoza, the Italian ravioli or tortellini, the Russian pelmeni, the Chinese wonton or xiaolongbao, the Korean mandu, the Indian samosa, the Tibetan momo, the Ukrainian varenyky - the list goes on, and on - and that's just for the filled siblings of the dumpling family. Then there are their unfilled cousins - the gnocchi, kopytka, matzah balls, kartoffelknodel - and many, many others.

So what is the definition of a dumpling? And where does the humble dumpling come from?

There is by no means any agreement on the origin of the dumpling. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, the dumpling is "a term of uncertain origin, which first appeared in print at the beginning of the 17th century, although the object it denotes - a small and usually globular mass of boiled or steamed dough - no doubt existed long before that." According to the same book however, Chinese records of dumplings go back as far as the Sung dynasty (AD 960 - 1279). Tim Wu on the other hand, in his excellent dumpling manifesto writes that Chinese people have been enjoying dumplings since at least the first century AD when, according to legend, Doctor Zhang Zhongjing invented them. Zhang supposedly discovered dumplings while researching Chinese medicine. The dumplings, the story goes, were a cure for both typhoid and frostbitten ears, which is why, they say, dumplings resemble ears.

Some excellent gyoza we had at senmonten gyoza restaurant in Kyoto, their slogan is 'it's just gyoza, but it's gyoza'

The dumpling can be plain, or filled. The filling may be sweet, or savory. They could be boiled, steamed, fried, or baked. Served in a broth, or with a dipping sauce or other condiment, such as sour cream.

For me however, in order to make me really happy, the dumpling should be filled and savory (there is a place for the sweet dumpling - sure - but it's secondary). I totally agree with Wu when he writes in his dumpling manifesto about a 'magic ratio' which is "the perfect ratio of protein to carbohydrate". He goes on to say that "the right ratio seem to activate some kind of pleasure centre in the brain, bringing about calm and quiet elation."

Pierogi with sauerkraut that my aunt made for Christmas in Poland

It must be going back a couple of years now but while we were living in Jakarta we had a 'celebration of the humble dumpling' at our place. We invited friends and asked everyone to bring some type of dumpling along. We ended up having around ten different types of dumplings.

Toshi sticking dumplings together for our dumpling party in Jakarta

If you ask me what my favorite dumpling is - I would have to say it's the Polish uszka (dumplings with mushroom), with a tie for second place by the Polish pierogi filled with sauerkraut and the pierogi with potato and cheese. My dad makes the best uszka and my mum makes the best pierogi - in the whole world, I'm telling you - and I've tried A LOT. They are so damn good. I love them most the second day, when you fry up the left over dumplings in butter.

Some of the dumplings at our 'celebration of the humble dumpling'

A Japanese friend making gyoza for our dumpling party in Jakarta

Toshi doesn't agree with me of course, although he loves pierogi, his favorite are gyoza. I guess it's about what one grows up with.

But it's far too early to declare any winners, we have so many more dumplings to try first.

Some great articles about dumplings:

The dumpling manifesto
Beyond Potstickers: A Dumpling Lover's Confession by Deb Perelman
Potstickers: In one small package, these dumplings link the past to present, rich to poor, mother to daughter
Is my blog burning: Potstickers
What are Chinese dumplings?


We Are Never Full said...

I really, really love your blog. I have to poke around more! Your dumpling party looked fun... I've always wanted to have a ravioli party. Ha! I also think dumplings are amazing, not just b/c of the balance of protein to carbs, but the DIPPING. Dipping into soy, or any type of sauce is my favorite part!

Amy @

Ewa said...

Thanks Amy! I love your blog too! and I know all about drunk dialing....ugh...