Everyone around the world loves dumplings, but in China they have a very special meaning during the holiday season. The Chinese word for dumpling (Jiǎo-zi, 饺子) sounds very similar to the phrase for “changing time” (Jiāo-zi, 交子). They are often eaten during both Chinese New Year and Western New Year as a way to symbolize good luck and happiness during the season…and because they are just so good!
For children, dumplings have an even better story. Since they resemble the shape of ancient gold coins, parents often hide a coin in one or two dumplings. The lucky eater gets a coin and wealth for the new year.
The best part? Dumplings are actually quite easy, and extremely fun, to make! Here’s our favorite traditional Chinese dumpling recipe from our family to share with yours during the winter season.
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1/4 Pound Chinese Chives, finely sliced (*see note below)
1/4 Pound Green Onion, finely sliced
1/2 Pound Fatty Ground Pork
1 Teaspoon Salt, more to taste
1 Tablespoon Sugar, more to taste
2 Teaspoons Cooking Rice Wine
2 Tablespoons Pork Stock or Water
1 Teaspoon Ginger, grated with a microplane
*Chinese Leeks are different to Western Leeks; they are very similar in size to a typical green onion and they are much leafier. They can be easily found in most international or Asian grocers.
Mix all ingredients together in one bowl until completely blended and smooth. Don’t be afraid to over-mix, the filling should be smooth and pasty. Once mixed, place a small spoonful of the filling into a microwavable dish and microwave until cooked (about 20 seconds) to taste. Add more sugar/salt as necessary.
We prefer to buy pre-made dumpling wrappers in the frozen section of most international or Asian grocery stores. They are much easier to prepare and taste just as good! Of course if you are in China, it is not hard to find freshly made dumpling wrappers at your local noodle shop.
For those that would like to make your own, all you’ll need is:
2 Cups All-purpose Flour
1 Cup Boiling Water
Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. If you have an electronic mixer or food processor, use that to save your arm from mixing continuously. Slowly add the hot water into the flour until a cohesive dough is formed (you may not need all of the water). With floured hands, form the dough into a ball and then cover with a damp towel and rest for around 30 minutes.
Split the dough into 40 tablespoon sized balls (you can start by splitting it into 4 large balls, and then each of those into 10 small balls). On a well-floured surface, roll each ball into round 3-4 inch diameter wrappers. Keep wrappers covered to keep them from drying out.
This is the fun part! Place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of the wrapper. Moisten the edges of the wrapper all the way around with your fingertip and then fold the wrapper in half over the filling. Pinch the wrapper all the way around to seal. This should be enough to keep the filling inside, but feel free to add your own touch to match the look that you desire. We usually like to pleat the edge after it is pinched to add some texture.
Bring a large pot of water to a slow boil and place enough dumplings in the pot to cover the surface area. The dumplings will start to float after a couple minutes. Cook them for an additional 2-3 minutes after they start floating until they are cooked. Remove them with a slotted spoon.
If you aren’t watching your waistline, you can fry some or all of your dumplings for some variety. Cover a large skillet with vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat until hot. Add dumplings on their flattest side and fry until browned and crisp, swirling occasionally to prevent sticking.
This is where creativity really starts. We’ve given three options below based on preferences in different regions of China, but it’s really up to you. Choose what you like and dip away!
Sweet & Sour (and salty)
A general dipping sauce combines three of China’s most common flavors: sweet (sugar), sour (vinegar) and salty (soy sauce). To make the sauce, combine the following ingredients:
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1 Teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon Finely Sliced Green Onion
1 Teaspoon Ginger, grated on a microplane
Place 1 cup of dried chili flakes and a few tablespoons of crushed peanuts into a medium sized bowl. Heat 1-2 cups of vegetable oil in a saucepan until hot. Slowly pour the hot oil onto the chili flakes and peanuts. They will sizzle as they cook but should not burn. Add enough oil to make a liquid sauce, not just a paste. Top with your preference of chopped green onion, garlic, ginger, and sugar/salt to taste.
In places like Shanghai, the locals dip their dumplings into plain vinegar. It’s not for everyone, but it is unique and legit!
We love dumplings too…check out our top-rated China food tours to try the best dumplings in Asia! Get off the beaten path in a private tuktuk and eat where the locals eat with Lost Plate. Book a small-group tour with us today!