Image source: 101cookbooks.com
Who doesn’t love dumplings? They are the perfect food for sampling, as evidenced by the recent popularity of dim sum breakfasts in Chinatown. Whether savory of sweet, they are sure to be warm, filling, and stuffed with something tasty. While many people enjoy eating dumplings, few realize the expansive influence the almost bite-sized food has had over the centuries on food cultures around the world.
Dumplings have been around for a millennia. While they have a place in cuisines around the world, they play an especially important role in Chinese culture. Chinese New Year celebrations often feature dumplings, and people eat them on the first day of the new year in an effort to secure health, happiness, and fortune for their families. Dumplings were consumed in China at least as early as 200 BC, when the wonton was cited as a commemoration of the fabled creator of the world, Pan Gu, who dissolved chaos by separating the world into two half-crescents, the sky and earth. Dumplings were considered delicacies in China for some time as it was incredibly difficult to prepare them with a dearth of appropriate cooking equipment. The invention of cooking aids like bamboo steamers has now made them ubiquitous, both in China and in foreign Chinese-influenced neighborhoods like New York’s Chinatown. Of course, dumplings do not belong to Chinese cuisine alone. The actual word “dumpling” first appeared in print at the beginning of the 17th century, according to food historian Alan Davidson, and originated in the Norfolk area of England. It refers to cooked balls of dough that are made from flour, potatoes, or bread, which can contain any manner of filling, usually meat or vegetables. Dumplings can be cooked in any number of ways, from boiling or steaming to frying and baking. They are found in various forms in cuisines across the world. A few familiar (and not so familiar) examples include:
Dampfnudel: A German flour dumpling that is steamed and then fried
Doughboys: A savory dumpling found in British and Irish cuisine, often in stews or casserole
Fufu: Steamed dumplings found throughout African, made of starchy bases like cornmeal
Gnocchi: A common Italian dumpling made from potato dough that is sometimes mixed with other ingredients such as spinach and/or ricotta
Gyoza: A Japanese dumpling, usually filled with minced meat and vegetables, steamed slightly and then fried in oil until crispy; Also called “potstickers” in English or “guotie” in Chinese
Jiaozi: A common Chinese dumpling, prepared as gyoza but boiled or steamed rather than fried, and served with a dipping sauce made of vinegar, chili oil and sometimes soy sauce
Melkkos: A South African doughnut-like dumpling made of milk and dough, and then boiled in milk and butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar
Pelmini: A Russian Russian dumpling, usually filled with meat
Pierogi: A crescent-shaped Polish dumpling, filled with sweet or savory fillings and usually served with sour cream after being boiled or fried
Samosa: A savory fried dumpling from India, stuffed with mince meat or vegetables, potatoes, and spices
Takoyaki: A common Japanese dumpling made of four, egg, water, and flavored with a piece of octopus
Tamale: A latin american ‘dumpling’ made of starchy dough (“masa,” usually from corn) and steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper, which is thrown away before the dumpling is eaten; often filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, or vegetables
Wontons: A Chinese dumpling boiled in light broth, wantons typically contain more filling and are made with thinner wrapping than jiaozi
As one of the culinary capitals of the world, not to mention a so-called cultural “melting pot,” New York City is a mecca for dumpling lovers. Here you can find a version of every type of dumpling listed above, plus dozens of others. Or, if you’d rather not venture out of your apartment, the plethora of dumpling recipes now available on online food blogs and home cookbooks allow even an amateur dumpling-maker to enjoy homemade dumplings in the privacy of their own kitchen. See below for a small list of New York dumpling spots, and as well as a few links to some delicious DIY dumpling recipes. Enjoy!
A sampling of New York dumpling restaurants:
Banjara: A restaurant in the St. Marks area of the East Village, specializing in North Indian cuisine, including a variety of sweet and savory samosas, stuffed Indian pastries, and other dumpling-like dishes. 97 1st Ave, New York, NY 10009
B+H Vegetarian: A vegetarian East Village stalwart that serves hearty bowls of matzo ball soup and an array of sweet and savory blintzes pierogis. 127 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003
M. Shanghai: An elegant restaurant in Williamsburg that serves up mouthwatering Chinese dishes, including steamed veggie dumplings, pork buns and dumplings, and an amazing spicy peanut wonton soup. 292 Grand St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Redfarm: Another, very trendy “neo-Chinese” restaurant in the West Village, gaining acclaim for its “Pac-man” dumplings (inspired by the video game) and a wide array of fishy and delicious dim sum, including steamed lobster dumplings and shumai “shooters.” 529 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014
Or, to make your own:
Plump Pea Dumplings, by 101 Cookbooks: A surprisingly quick and easy recipe with an incredible yield of slightly sweet, fresh-tasting pea dumplings.
Golden Potstickers, by 101 Cookbooks: A slightly more involved recipe for crispy, protein-packed gyoza.
Chicken, Chorizo, and Olive Empanadas by smitten kitchen: A tasty take on empanadas; the blog also offers a recipe for beef empanadas, for those who like their meat red.
Strawberries and Dumplings, by smitten kitchen: An “All-American” recipe for those with a sweet tooth.
– Chelsea Newson