The Lowdown on Dumplings

01 Oct 2015
POSTED BY Y Magazine
Dumplings are a versatile food with a fanbase around the globe, particularly in Asia, where Kate Ginn sampled them first hand

There are all sorts of variations of “comfort food” across the continents; in Asia and Southeast Asia, however, it’s the dumpling. This unassuming little dough ball is an adaptable food, which can work equally well as a starter, main course or dessert, and can be cooked in all sorts of different ways, from boiling and steaming to simmering or frying.

Whichever way they’re made, all dumplings have the same simple culinary base; small pieces of dough wrapped around a filling, which can be meat, fish, vegetables or sweets.

Legend has it that the home of dumplings is China, where they were first invented in the era of the Three Kingdoms around 225AD, and many of us will have heard of the Chinese favourites: wonton (a dumpling with a thin, elastic skin and typically boiled in a light broth or soup) or har gow (shrimp dumplings) served in dim sum.

You might not know, however, that dumplings are also eaten around the globe, from Africa (kenkey – partly boiled starchy balls of dough steamed in banana leaves) and India (gujia – a sweet dumpling made with wheat flour and stuffed with khoya, thickened milk), to Filipino cuisine (siomai – made from beef and shrimp, steamed or fried and dipped in soy sauce) and Caribbean (pan fried and usually served with breakfast codfish as a side).

In Taiwan, the most famous are the soup dumplings (xiaolongbao), pale golf ball-sized dumplings packed with meat or sweets, and described by the influential Forbes Magazine as “the world’s greatest dumplings.”

A staple of the Taiwanese diet, people eat these dough creations at any time of the day and also just as a snack. And the best place to eat soup dumplings is the famous Din Tai Fung restaurant in the Taiwan capital, Taipei, where people queue hours for a table.


Customers can watch their dumplings being made behind the windows of an open kitchen, a fascinating sight as the chefs – in full whites – work the dough, taking just seconds to prepare each dumpling. Each dumpling must have 18 folds and weigh 21g.  Customers can send back any dumplings that don’t meet these strict criteria.

In Taiwan, soup dumplings are usually made with a variety of meat, including beef and chicken, or vegetable fillings. The dumplings are served up in a bamboo basket and the delicious, perfectly formed balls look like exquisite pieces of culinary art.

You eat them dipped in ginger and soy sauce, a delicate balance of flavours that bursts on the tongue. Gorgeous vibrant green vegetables – shredded beans and courgettes – are served as side dishes.

Sweet versions of soup dumplings are filled with taro (similar to the sweet potato or yam) or a red bean paste.

From a single restaurant in Taipei, Din Tai Fung has grown to 63 outlets in 10 countries. You’ll be able to try the legendary dumplings yourself soon to see what the fuss is all about when one of the restaurants opens in the Mall of Emirates in Dubai. Dumpling heaven will be just an hour’s flight away.


If you can’t wait until then, make your own with this dumpling recipe:

Chinese Meat Dumplings

Dumpling Dough 


  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • About ¾ cup just-boiled water


  1. To prepare the dough in a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl. With the machine running, add 3/4 cup of water in a steady stream through the feed tube. As soon as all the water has been added, stop the machine and check the dough. It should look rough and feel soft, but firm enough to hold its shape when pinched. If necessary, add water by the teaspoon or flour by the tablespoon. When satisfied, run the machine for another five to 10 seconds to further knead and form a ball around the blade. Avoid overworking the dough.
  2. Alternatively, make the dough by hand. Put a bowl atop a kitchen towel to prevent it from slipping while you work. Put the flour in the bowl and make a well in the center. Use a wooden spoon or bamboo rice paddle to stir the flour while you add 3/4 cup water in a steady stream. Aim to evenly moisten the flour. It’s okay to pause to stir or add water — it is hard to simultaneously do both. When all the water has been added, you will have lots of lumpy bits. Knead the dough in the bowl to bring all the lumps into one mass. If the dough does not come together easily, add water by the teaspoon.
  3. Regardless of the mixing method, transfer the dough and any bits to a work surface; flour your work surface only if necessary, and then sparingly. Knead the dough with the heel of your hand for about 30 seconds for machine-made dough, or about two minutes for handmade dough. The result should be nearly smooth and somewhat elastic; press on the dough; it should slowly bounce back, with a light impression of your finger remaining. Place the dough in a zip-top plastic bag and seal tightly closed, expelling excess air. Set aside to rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to two hours. The dough will steam up the plastic bag and become earlobe soft, which makes wrappers easy to work with.
  4. After resting, the dough can be used right away to form the wrappers. Or refrigerate it overnight and return it to room temperature before using.




  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped Chinese chives
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp chilli-garlic sauce (such as Sriracha)
  • 450g ground meat (usually beef or chicken)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced


  1. Combine 1/2 cup soy sauce, rice vinegar, one tbsp chives, sesame seeds, and chilli sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Mix meat, garlic, egg, two tbsp chives, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Place a dumpling wrapper on a lightly floured work surface and spoon about one tbsp of the filling in the middle. Wet the edge with a little water and crimp together forming small pleats to seal the dumpling. Repeat with remaining dumpling wrappers and filling.
  3. Heat one to two tbsp of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place eight to 10 dumplings in the pan and cook until browned, about two minutes per side. Pour in one cup of water, cover and cook until the dumplings are tender and the meat is cooked through, about five minutes. Repeat for remaining dumplings. Serve with soy sauce mixture for dipping.


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