The humble yet versatile dumpling is beloved all over the world in its many forms, shapes and flavours. In some parts of the world, such as China, it is an ancient cuisine that has been around for thousands of years.
I absolutely love dumplings and can eat them every day. But unlike many other Chinese households that consider dumplings a staple, my family does not make them often – so I only get to eat dumplings when dining out at restaurants, or if I make them myself. My favourite type is the guotie, known in the West as pot stickers (guotie literally translates to pot stick), but I also like wontons, siumai and Japanese gyoza. Dumplings is a blanket term, but each of these has its own specialty, from the cooking method to ingredients – so I thought it’d be fun to do a list of the different types of dumplings you can find around the world.
Since I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I’ve only listed savoury dumplings:
With a history dating back close to two millennia, dumplings are inseparable from Chinese cuisine. One of the most common types that we can find today is jiaozi, which typically consists of minced meat (usually pork, but sometimes chicken, beef or shrimp) and chopped vegetables (cabbage, spring onions, chives) wrapped in a piece of dough skin (the thickness varies). Boiled jiaozi is called suijiao, while steamed ones are called zhengjiao and fried ones (my fave!) guotie. Jiaozi is often eaten on festive occasions such as the eve of Chinese New Year or the Winters’ Solstice Festival, and family members spend time bonding while preparing the dumplings together.
While wontons are also a Chinese dumpling, they are better known by their Cantonese name rather than the Mandarin, hun dun. My theory is that early immigrants to Western countries were mostly from Cantonese communities, and the popularity of the dish solidified its name among Westerners. Even here in Malaysia, we call it wantan rather than by the Mandarin name. While jiaozi wrappers are usually round in shape, wonton wrappers are square, resulting in a smaller, more rounded dumpling. It can be boiled in a soup, or deep-fried. Fun fact: the name wonton literally means ‘cloud swallow’!
There are actually different types of shumai, which differ according to region, but the one that is best known across the world is the Cantonese shumai, which is also the type often served at dim sum restaurants. This version typically features pork and/or shrimp with mushroom, wrapped with a thin, almost translucent wrapper made from lye water dough that has a slightly sweet taste. To quote the anime Cooking Master Boy, jiaozis are akin to a bag that protectively envelops its contents, whereas shumai is more like a soft, silk scarf that gently wraps itself around the meat (anyone remember the Dumpling Brothers episode?) Shumais are steamed, although they can sometimes be fried. Here in Malaysia, they are served in dimsum restos, coffeeshops and even food trucks. In Malaysia, it is best eaten with our local Kampung Koh chilli sauce.
Xiao Loong Bao (CHINA)
In recent years, xiao loong bao has seen a massive boost in popularity thanks to chain restaurants like Din Tai Fung. They are so called because they are traditionally prepared in small bamboo baskets (xiao loong), while bao is the generic word for bun or dumpling. Xiao loong bao is often associated with Shanghainese cuisine. They are also called soup dumplings, and some variants have crab meat instead of pork, as well as other fillings. When I was younger (before the wonders of the Internet and google), I often wondered how they managed to fill up the dumplings with soup. This is actually done by wrapping a gelatin-like aspic (jelly made with meat stock) together with the filling. When steamed, the aspic melts, resulting in soup. The best way to eat xiao loong bao is to poke a hole so that you can slurp up the soup, before dipping the rest of the dumpling into vinegar and ginger slices. More innovative, modern creations include flavours such as truffle, garlic and even cheese.
Mandu was believed to have been brought to the Korean peninsula by Mongols, and has been part of Korean royal court cuisine for centuries. They can be steamed, boiled or fried – styles vary across the region. Like jiaozi, which has different names according to how you prepare them, grilled or fried dumplings are called gun-mandu, while steamed ones are called jjin-mandu and boiled ones mul-mandu. Though they are quite similar in appearance to jiaozi, mandu‘s ingredients differ, as it uses kimchi (of course), tofu and cellophane noodles along with meat and vegetables.
Inspired by the Chinese jiaozi, gyoza is the Japanese version which has a thinner skin and more finely chopped ingredients. It often includes garlic, which is less common in China (the Chinese use garlic as a condiment or in the dipping sauce). Gyoza is typically pan fried. Some places add slurry so a beautiful crust forms around the gyoza pieces.
Momo (SOUTH ASIA – NEPAL, TIBET AND PARTS OF INDIA)
While similar in appearance to East Asian dumplings like the mandu and gyoza, momo is distinct for its ingredients, which are heavily influenced by the region and features lots of spices and herbs. They are usually steamed or fried. Ground meat is used (although there are also vegetarian versions), along with vegetables like chayote, cabbage, potato and flat-beans, tofu, local cheeses like paneer and chhurpi, as well as spices like garlic, ginger, cilantro, coriander and onions. Nepalese momo often uses meat such as mutton or buffalo, while in the Himalayan regions, herd animals such as yak and lamb are also popular.
Manti (CENTRAL ASIA)
Manti is a type of dumpling popular in Turkic cuisine, and since the region is vast (covering not just central Asia but also parts of Russia and the Balkans), there are many different ways of making them. The manti in central Asia is usually larger in size and steamed in dedicated pots. Due to the nomadic culture of the region, meat from animals such as beef, horse, lamb and goat are often used. The Ughyurs of northern China and Kazakhstan prepare manti with spices like black pepper, plus pumpkin or squash, and the dumplings are then served with butter, sour cream or onion and garlic sauce.
Some European ‘dumplings’ do not look like the ones found in Asia, such as Central Europe’s Knodel (pictured), dumplings made from flour, bread or potatoes, which resemble meat balls or bread balls. While it’s generally referred to as pasta, ravioli apparently fits the definition of a dumpling. Sheets of pasta are rolled out to make pockets which are filled with ingredients such as meat, seafood, mushrooms, spinach and cheese. The ravioli is then cooked and served with sauces or on its own. The Maultaschen of Germany is a similar dish.
Then again, you do get types that look more like the traditional ‘dumplings’ of Asia, such as the Polish pierogi (pictured – dough wrapped around sweet or savoury fillings like potato, sauerkraut, ground meat, cheese and fruits), the Ukrainian uszka (ground meat and wild mushrooms) and the Russian pelmeni (minced meat and spices).
What are the different types of dumplings available in your country, and which are your favourites? I’d love to hear more about them in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!