Shibin Zhang writes about Chinese food and Chinese culture. She specializes in the cuisine of North East China and in Islamic Chinese cuisine. On her website you can find many other articles about Chinese cuisine and culture.
Chinese Dumplings: A Brief Introduction
Dumplings are a very important dish in Chinese cuisine, whose influence in Chinese culture can never be overlooked or underestimated. Dumplings are also part of Japanese, Korean, and even Russian cuisines (although the way they look and taste is totally different).
Dumplings carry a very special meaning for Chinese people all over the World. Most Chinese families gather together during Chinese New Year Eve celebrations to prepare dumplings. When Chinese people have guests for dinner, they prepare dumplings to warmly welcome their guests. Here, in UK, when Chinese friends gather for dinner, it is very common to prepare dumplings together: while a few of us prepare the pastries, the others are rolling them up.
And me, I never forget the time I was there trying to help my parents and grandparents preparing dumplings, I was only five probably, trying to hold the rolling pin to make the pastry, and hated that my left and right hands did not coordinate as they should. So, on top of every cultural facts, it really is a family thing. I remember that after I became an 'expert' on making the pastry, my mum would call all of us come to the kitchen to help after she had prepared the fillings and flour dough already; then, we would all sit around the table chatting and making dumplings.
Here is a basic description of a dumpling: it is a round flour made pastry wrap with fillings inside. Fillings can be made of meat or vegetables, or seafood, (hundreds of different fillings); then, they can be boiled in water, light fried with oil, or steamed. However, the most popular form of preparation in China is to boil them. Different ways of cooking normally require a little bit different ways of preparing the dough.
Dumplings can be easily found in most restaurants in the North East of China, and there are many restaurants specialized on dumplings.
The common dumpling fillings in Northeast are either pork, beef, lamb, or prawns, which are normally combined with different vegetables. Of course, there are also many vegetarian choices. Popular vegetables that go well with beef, lamb or prawns are spring onions (you can use leeks as an alternative), celery, or 'Jiu Cai'. The latter are called 'garlic chives' in English (however, there are slight differences between the Jiu Cai and chives in mainland China).
Traditionally, the dumplings are served with a dip (a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar). In most restaurants in North East China, you can see a small bottle of light soya sauce and rice vinegar on each table.
Here is the delicate 'dip recipe' we commonly prepare at home. Mix light soya sauce, rice vinegar, a little pinch of white sugar, sesame oil, 'minced' garlic and chili oil (optional).