So although no one really knows where dumplings originated, it’s likely they came from Central Asian people inhabiting what is now northern China, who were at least partly agricultural and grew wheat for flour. They probably spoke a Turkic-derived language, as we know the earliest Mandarin word for dumpling, mantou – meaning steamed bun, appeared in the 3rd century and is derived from a Turkic word. Dumplings spread rapidly throughout China picking up new ingredients and flavours along the way, and became a fundamental part of the culture.
Since then, dumplings have made the Journey to the West along the Silk Road to Central Asia, the Himalayas and Europe reaching down into India and up to the Baltic Sea. Today we have an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, tastes and styles. Come back to learn more about dumplings on our blog, or check out our glossary below for details of some of the traditional types.
- Name: Momo, म:म in Nepali or མོག་མོག in Tibetan (sounds like mok-mok)
- Origin: Himalayas
- What are they?: Momos are Himalayan dumplings originating in Tibet and Nepal, and eaten widely in Bhutan and northern India too. The momo’s journey to the West is one of the most adventurous, integrating with first Himalayan and then Indian flavours. Think of it as a cousin of the Chinese jiaozi. It’s now not uncommon to find Mumbai street vendors selling their own take on momos!
- A comfort food to all who eat them, momos are considered the unofficial beloved national dish of Tibet. A traditional momo is a simple white flour wrapper filled with yak, lamb or mutton, though nowadays you can find momos with other meat-based and vegetarian fillings, and even cheese.
- How to enjoy them?: Momos are mainly steamed, though they can be fried or boiled in soup (momo soup is called mothuk). Tibetans eat them with their hands – you can too! – and dip them into sepen, an addictive Tibetan hot sauce. We love ours with chilli garlic sauce, or a milder tomato chutney if it’s a heavily spiced momo. On cold winter days we have our momos in a hearty broth.
- Shapes and varieties: Typical momo shapes are round, half moon and the very cute tsi-tsi, which means ‘mouse’, and is commonly used in mothuk.
- Name: Pelmeni, пельмeни in Russian (pronounced pell-may-knee, with a slight emphasis on the ‘may’). The singular is pelmen – but who would only eat one dumpling?
- Origin: Siberia, Russia
- What are they?: Pelmeni are the most beloved comfort food throughout Russia – think of them as the Russians’ version of ‘instant noodles’ or ‘beans on toast’! The name itself comes from the word for ‘ear bread’ in the native Finno-Ugric Komi and Mansi languages. As to when it entered Russian cuisine, the origins are lost in time, but it’s most likely they were first introduced by the Mongols.
- The dumpling wrappers are made from a thin, unleavened dough of water, flour and often egg, then filled with various meat mixtures – such as ground beef, pork or mutton – to get a balance of flavour and juiciness. Mushrooms are sometimes added into the mix, as well as onion, garlic and black pepper.
- How to enjoy them?: Typically pelmeni are boiled and then served with sour cream and dill, sometimes with a dish of clear vinegar for dipping. Alternatively, they may be served in a broth. While their flavour is more delicate than a Chinese jiaozi, people who love their food with a kick can add a dollop of horseradish. For the full ‘authentic’ experience, chase them down with shots of vodka…
- Shapes and varieties: Pelmeni shapes tend to be no frills – folded into shell shapes or half moons, like a tortellini just with more meatiness.
- Did you know?: Pelmeni (like most dumplings) freeze very well, which is why they were the perfect food for the Siberians. They would be frozen outdoors and then preserved for the winter – the perfect nourishment for hunters to take on long journeys. That’s one bonus of living in a very cold climate!
- Pelmeni’s journey to the West, from Siberia and the Ural region through to Europe, has undoubtedly influenced the Central/Eastern European pierogi family, of which there are so many varieties. The main difference is that pelmeni are always filled with meat, and have a thinner dough. Pierogi can come in sweet varieties, or with the popular potato/cheese filling. Just don’t call a pelmen a pierog in front of a Russian!
- Name: Jiaozi, or 饺子 in Simplified Chinese, 餃子 in Traditional Chinese. In Mandarin it’s pronounced like jow-tzuh. If you want to give it a go in Cantonese, it’s like gow-tzee.
- Origin: China. Jiaozi have been around for at least 2,000 years – archaeologists have even unearthed some from a tomb dating back to the Tang Dynasty era. There are so many myths about how jiaozi came about and what the name means, but it’s probably safe to say that all other dumpling roads lead to jiaozi; especially via the Silk Road.
- What are they?: Jiaozi typically consist of a thinly rolled wheat wrapper, filled with a ground meat and/or vegetable filling. Since they are enjoyed throughout China, the fillings vary with the vast regional influences and ingredients available – from fish and shrimp in the coastal regions, to lamb and pork in landlocked provinces.
- How to enjoy them?: Jiaozi are prepared in versatile ways: boiled, steamed, pan fried or even deep fried. As with most other dumplings, we find them extra comforting when eaten in soup. A simple and traditional dip would be a mix of black vinegar and soy sauce, but we also think they are perfect vessels for homemade chilli oil.
- Shapes and varieties: They can be sealed and folded into all kinds of shapes, from simple pleats to elaborate goldfish. At Chinese New Year, jiaozi are a must-have dish. They are folded to resemble ingots, the old form of currency used in imperial China, to symbolise wealth and prosperity. A popular activity during this important cultural festival is for families to gather and make dumplings together, filling them with auspicious ingredients such as cabbage, to represent a hundred years of wealth!
- Did you know?: the Western term ‘potsticker’ is a direct translation of guotie, or 锅贴, which literally means pot + stick. Guotie belongs to the jiaozi family – It’s the name for a popular northern Chinese street food snack of steam-fried dumplings, which, when expertly done, creates a golden, perfectly crunchy bottom.
- It’s a northern Chinese tradition to eat dumplings during the winter solstice – a popular saying translates to ‘your ears won’t freeze if you eat dumplings on the winter solstice’.
- Name: Gyoza. Repeat after us: gyo-zuh. Does the word remind you of jiaozi? That’s because the Japanese word comes from the Chinese 餃子. Now you know!
- Origin: Japan.
- What are they?: Gyoza are a very new addition to Japanese cuisine, considering jiaozi have been around for over 2,000 years. It was after the Second World War, when Japanese soldiers returned from what was then known as the State of Manchuria in northeast China, that they brought back jiaozi recipes.
- The main difference between gyoza and jiaozi is that the wrappers are thinner and smaller, having been machine manufactured since the 1940s. That means gyoza are smaller and can be finished off in a couple of bites. Because of this, you’re more likely to find them as appetisers on a Japanese menu, rather than forming part of a main meal.
- How to enjoy them?: Gyoza’s thin wrappers suit the most popular method of steam-frying (yaki-gyoza), which gives them that crunchy potsticker finish while retaining a juicy filling. They can also be boiled (sui-gyoza), steamed (mushi-gyoza) or deep fried (age-gyoza). When we’re in a hurry, we eat our gyoza with a simple soy dipping sauce. If you’re feeling fancy, try a combination of yuzu, mirin, sake and soy sauce to make a tangy ponzu dipping sauce.
- Shapes and varieties: The classic gyoza filling is a combination of ground pork, and/or vegetables such as finely shredded cabbage and shiitake mushrooms. A popular vegetarian alternative might be a tofu filling. Attentive tasters might also detect more addition of garlic and garlic chives in gyoza than in jiaozi.
- Gyoza generally come in simple pleated shapes; with a much younger gyoza culture, Japan doesn’t have the elaborate variations of the Chinese dumpling!
- Name: Mandu, or 만두 in Korean
- Origin: Korea
- What are they?: Mandu is the name for the family of dumplings in Korean cuisine, and can comprise a huge range of different types and preparation methods. The name itself is a transliteration of mantou (馒头), the Chinese word for steamed bun, though mandu are more directly related to the Chinese jiaozi. One theory of how mandu developed is that they were introduced by the Yuan Mongolians in the 14th century, during one of their many invasions of Korea.
- A very thin wheat wrapper is filled with various ingredients such as meat, shrimp, vegetables and kimchi.
- How to enjoy them?: Mandu can be boiled, steamed, pan fried or deep fried. You could make a classic tangy sauce to go with any mandu, mixing soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, some gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes) and toasted sesame seeds. One of our favourite ways of eating mandu is in tteok manduguk – a traditional New Year dish of mandu served in a clear broth, along with tteok rice cakes and garnishes such as sliced omelette and seaweed. It’s so good we find ourselves enjoying it all year round!
- Shapes and varieties: There is a history of mandus featuring in Korean royal court cuisine, especially when meat and wheat flour were particularly rare to come by – which is why you can find mandus for all seasons. One very refreshing mandu is the pyeonsu, which originated in Kaesong, North Korea, and was enjoyed as a summer delicacy. It’s a square-shaped mandu stuffed with a particular ratio of four different types of ground meat, sprouts and tofu, and served chilled.
- Name: Xiaolongbao, or 小笼包 (Simplified Chinese). Pronunciation tip: in Mandarin Chinese, the xiao is pronounced like ‘shao’.
- Origin: Changzhou, China
- What are they?: Xiaolongbao take their name from xiao long, the small bamboo baskets in which they are prepared. These soup-filled dumplings are always steamed, though there are many regional styles that can vary in size and thickness. The filling is usually pork-based, but can also include seafood. But it is the wheat wrapper – which must be impossibly thin yet strong enough to contain the filling – that makes or breaks a xiaolongbao.
- How to enjoy them?: There’s a trick to eating xiaolongbao to make sure you don’t lose any of the juicy goodness! They are best experienced freshly steamed (but be careful not to burn your mouth – we’ve made this mistake many times). Place a spoon under each dumpling, holding the top with chopsticks and nibbling a small hole in the side to suck out the soup, and making sure to catch any spills with the spoon. A popular way to season the dumpling is to dip it in Zhenjiang vinegar and eat them it with finely shredded ginger.
- Shapes and varieties: Some of our favourite versions include: Nanxiang-style with pork or crab filling; Suzhou-style, larger and sweeter than from Nanxiang; Nanjing-style, smaller and with a gloriously thin skin.
- Did you know?: 18 is the magic number. That’s the exact number of pleats every xialongbao has at world famous chain Din Tai Fung. It’s thought to be an auspicious number, since in Chinese the numbers one and eight sound like ‘to get rich’!
- Name: Shengjianbao, or 生煎包 (Simplified Chinese)
- Origin: Shanghai, China
- What are they?: Shengjianbao are soup-filled dumplings made with a fairly thick semi-leavened dough, traditionally filled with pork and topped with sesame seeds and spring onions. It’s a breakfast favourite among the Shanghainese, and once you try one, you will know why!
- 生煎包 literally means ‘raw fried bun’, because they are fried before being steamed, which gives a golden, crispy bottom while the dough remains fluffy. They can actually be fried either on the knotted or smooth side – feel free to experiment, as both give different textures.
- How to enjoy them?: To get that perfect crispy-fluffy balance right, we recommend flipping them after cooking while they’re cooling down, so the steam doesn’t make the bottoms go soggy.
- Shengjianbao taste great with a vinegar dip or spicy chilli oil.
- Shapes and varieties: Some other fillings might be chicken, prawn or crab meat.
- Did you know?: David Chang once called them ‘the world’s most underrated dumpling’. We are inclined to agree with him!
- Name: Shumai, 烧卖 in Simplified Chinese or 燒賣 in Traditional Chinese. Sometimes written as siumai or shaomai depending on the phoneticisation.
- Origin: Although shumai originated in Hohhot in Inner Mongolia in the 13th century as a side dish to accompany tea, the version you probably know best is the Cantonese one, popularised by the movement of Hong Kong Cantonese immigrants and dim sum restaurants around the world.
- What are they?: Shumai vary a little from place to place in terms of the filling and wrapper, but they are always characterised by being open at the top, as opposed to jiaozi, which are closed dumplings. The classic Cantonese style is filled with a typical 6:4 shrimp to pork ratio, along with mushroom, spring onion and ginger. You might notice a colourful decoration on top, such as a slice of carrot or some fish roe.
- How to enjoy them?: Shumai are almost always steamed. If you have some traditional bamboo baskets at home, these are ideal for steaming as well as doubling up for presentation.
- Shapes and varieties: Because shumai travelled all the way from Inner Mongolia and was popularised throughout China over many centuries, there are lots of regional variations. Some of our favourites include the OG Hohhot style – with a lamb filling and flower-shaped top, perfect with dipping vinegar and green tea. We also can’t resist the Shanghainese style glutinous rice shumai, which is flavoured with Chinese sausage and dried shrimp.
- Did you know?: Shumai has cousins all across Asia, from the Philippines – where it’s called siomai and is served with a calamansi dip – to Indonesia, where it’s called siomay, and fish replaces pork to suit the Muslim population and is served with a peanut sauce and sweet soy dip.
- Name: Manti (also mantu, manta, monti)
- Origin: Turkey, especially the Kayseri region of central Turkey, although variants are popular across Central Asia including Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan Afghanistan. Turkic and Mongol horsemen on the move were supposed to have carried frozen or dried manti, which could be quickly boiled over a campfire.
- What are they?: A spiced meat mixture, usually minced lamb or beef, in a thin dough wrapper and either boiled or steamed.
- How to enjoy them?: Serve manti boiled or baked, topped with yoghurt and garlic and seasoned with some sumac or mint.
- Shapes and varieties: As well as the standard form, mini-manti are popular in Kayseri, with poultry versions in some regions of Turkey and even some with no filling at all. Pumpkin and squash may be added in Central Asia, where their manti are usually steamed rather than boiled.
- Did you know?: In Kayseri, when a couple is engaged to be married, the bride should prepare manti for her future mother-in-law. The smaller the manti are, the more skillful the bride is considered to be in the kitchen. Traditionally the bridal manti should be so small that 40 of them can fit into one spoon!
- Name: Wonton, 云吞 (simplified Chinese) or 雲吞 (traditional Chinese), pronounced huntun in Mandarin
- Origin: Wontons were originally jiaozi type dumplings that were served in a soup. In southern China these soup dumplings gradually developed their own style from the Tang dynasty onwards.
- What are they?: Wontons usually have a thin egg-enriched dough wrapper and a minced pork and shrimp filling.
- How to enjoy them?: Wontons are usually boiledand served in soup. We also enjoy eating them Sichuan style – boiled and covered in sesame paste and chilli oil. Alternatively, as a occasional treat, they can be deep fried…
- Shapes and varieties: Each region of eastern China has at least one and sometimes several versions of wonton.
- Name: Hargow (also spelled hagow, haukau, hakao) in Cantonese, known as xiajiao in Mandarin; written as 蝦餃 Traditional Chinese.
- Origin: Wucun village in Guangdong (Canton) province in southern China.
- What are they?: Delicate translucent dumplings with a tapioca wrapper containing shrimp and bamboo shoots.
- How to enjoy them?: Hargow are always steamed. They are best served in the steamer to keep them warm, and taste great dipped into a light sauce of soy and vinegar. They can be tricky to catch with chopsticks, but persevere – it’s worth it!
- Did you know?: The name in Cantonese also means ‘wedding gown’, as the shape of the dumpling resembles the traditional gown worn by a brideon her wedding day.
- Name: Khinkhali, ხინკალი in Georgian.
- Origin: Georgia.
- What are they?: Oversized, super juicy meat-filled dumplings usually made with a mixture of pork and either lamb or beef and flavoured with onion, chilli and cumin. Rather like a giant xiaolongbao.
- How to enjoy them?: Boil and eat carefully. Pick them up with your hands and bite through the skin, slurpingout the tasty liquid before eating the filling.
- Shapes and varieties: Vegetarian-friendly khinkhali can be found, containing a combination of mushroom, potato and cheese.
- Did you know?: The top of the khinkhali where the pleats meetis tough and not meant to be eaten. Instead, these ‘tails’ are to be left behind on the plate as a visible count of how many you’ve eaten!