Chinese dumplings sit on a metal tray

Dumpling Delving: An Introduction to Chinese Dumplings

A primer on eight different types of Chinese dumplings

Dumplings are hugely important in Chinese culinary history.

Going back as far as Western Han Dynasty, Chinese dumplings have continued to evolve with Chinese cuisine itself, resulting in a broad and extensive variety that can now be enjoyed around the world. 

To list all of the existing types of Chinese dumplings would be an overwhelming ordeal; so instead this will be an introduction to more commonly-known dumplings that can be found at many local Chinese restaurants. 

Guo Tie (锅贴)

Guo Tie, a type of Chinese dumplings also known as potstickers, sit on a white plate

Guo tie are one of the most common Chinese dumplings found in restaurants around the world.  They are typically recognized by their English translation — pot stickers. 

Originating in Northern China, these dumplings are filled with ground meat and vegetables, such as cabbage, scallions, garlic and ginger and wrapped in a thin, circular-shaped wrapper made of flour and water. The dumplings are then pan-fried on one side until crispy, and then steamed with a small amount of water until the filling is cooked through. 

For extra crunch, some guo tie are steamed with a cornstarch and water mixture, which is cooked down until all that remains is a crunchy “skirt” that connects all the dumplings together with a lacy bottom. 

Guo tie are a perfect combination of textures. The underbelly gets crispy while the top stays soft and tender. The dumplings are usually served with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil, and can be enjoyed either as a snack or a main dish.

Shui Jiao (水饺)

Uncooked braided Chinese dumplings sit on a metal tray

Shui Jiao can often be confused with Guo Tie due to how strikingly similar they are. 

Shui jiao have the same wrapper and can use the same fillings as guo tie, but the difference between the two is explained in the name: shui jiao means “water dumpling”. The namesake of these types of dumplings comes from the fact that the dumplings are boiled in water. Sometimes, a jiaozi (the generalized term for Chinese dumplings) can first be made as a shui jiao before pan-frying it to turn it into guo tie. 

Just like the guo tie, this dumpling is often enjoyed with a salty, acidic dipping sauce of soy sauce and vinegar. 

Wonton (馄饨)

Uncooked wontons, one of the types of Chinese dumplings, sit on a metal tray

Just like shui jiao, wontons are boiled types of Chinese dumplings that also originate from the northern regions of China. With much thinner flour wrappers than shui jiao, wontons are delicate and tender, matching their loose English translation of “swallowing a cloud”. 

Like most dumplings, the inner filling is a mixture of ground meat (traditionally pork) and vegetables that is seasoned lightly to add a hint of flavor. The main allure of wontons are the broth they are boiled in, which is commonly chicken broth.

For a more in-depth flavor, the broth can also be made with pork bone and shrimp shells. Either preparation results in a clear, refreshing soup with delicate wontons floating about. 

For an alternative take, wontons can also be fried and served with a sweet dipping sauce.

Har Gow (虾饺)

Har gow dumplings on a white plate

Unlike the artsy translation of wonton, the English translation of “har gow” is quite literal: it means “shrimp dumpling.”

These Cantonese dumplings are not made with a flour wrapper; but instead with various starches, such as extracted wheat starch, rice starch, or tapioca starch. Using these alternatives to flour allows the wrapper to remain thin, chewy and translucent — showing off the delicious filling within. That filling is traditionally made of shrimp and bamboo.

Although traditional har gow is always delicious, you can now find these types of Chinese dumplings in dim sum restaurants with unique flavor combinations in their fillings. 

To cook them, har gow are gently steamed before being paired with a sweet soy dipping sauce for serving.

Related:Deconstructing Dim Sum

Siu Mai (烧卖)

Siu mai in a bamboo steamer basket

Siu mai, also known as shumai, is another popular Cantonese dumpling that is believed to have originated in Southern China. Like har gow, they are a staple in type of Chinese dumplings in dim sum restaurants and are often served in the bamboo baskets in which they were steamed.

Siu mai are made with a filling of ground pork (although some add shrimp), sometimes mushrooms, bamboo shoots, or water chestnuts. That filling is wrapped in a thin layer of wheat dough and formed into a small, open-topped purse shape. The dumpling is often garnished with a small dot of orange roe or carrot, giving it a pop of color. The final result is a beautiful flower-like dumpling that is served with a classic soy sauce dipping sauce.

Siu mai dough can also be made with the addition of lye water, which is a common ingredient for making hand-pulled noodles. This ingredient helps add a unique, subtle chewiness to the wrapper. Lye water helps increase the PH of the dough, allowing it to become more springy or bouncy from the breakdown of gluten. 

Dan Jiao (蛋饺)

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Dan jiao, which translates to “egg dumpling,” are unique types of Chinese dumplings where the filling is wrapped by beaten eggs instead of a flour-based wrapper. This gives it a delicate and fluffy texture, making it a popular choice for breakfast or a light snack. 

To make the dumplings, the chef first beats eggs together to a smooth consistency. Then a small amount of the egg mixture is poured into a hot, oiled ladle. The mixture is gently swirled until it coats the ladle and begins to cook into a thin layer. 

The filling, which is often pork, shrimp, and bamboo shoots minced together, is then added to the egg wrapper. Everything is then folded together into a tight dumpling. 

The end result is similar to an omelet: a fluffy egg dumpling with a meaty inside, served with the usual dipping sauce of soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil or enjoyed plain. Dan jiao can also be served in a clear soup with noodles as a breakfast meal or dim sum plate.

Xiao Long Bao (小笼包)

Four Xiao long bao, one of the many types of Chinese dumplings, sit in a bamboo basket

Xiao long bao, also known as “soup dumplings”, are believed to have originated somewhere in Jiangnan region of China. Their popularity eventually grew to Shanghai and eventually, the entire world. 

The dumplings are a type of steamed bun filled with a mixture of minced pork, scallions, and a gelatinized broth called aspic. By cooking down the pork bones with ingredients such as chicken feet, pork skin, and other connective tissue, the leftover broth is so rich with gelatin that it sets into a jelly-like consistency when chilled. This “meat jelly” can then be diced and folded into the meaty fillings.

You NEED this Recipe: How to Make Soup Dumplings

The wrapper for xiao long bao is made from a dough slightly thicker than jiaozi, that is rolled out into small circles. The filling is then placed in the center of the wrapper, and the edges are folded and twisted together tightly to seal in the soup. When these dumplings are steamed, the heat causes the gelatin within to melt, creating a hot, flavorful broth inside of the dumpling.

There is a specific way to best eat xiao long bao. If an eater isn’t careful, the hot soup inside of the dumplings can burst out all at once. Losing all of the delicious, steaming-hot broth is sad and can often be quite painful — literally. 
To prevent this, the best way to eat xiao long bao is to first bite a small hole in the dumpling to slurp out the soup before then enjoying the dumpling whole. It can also be dipped in a vinegar-based sauce to help it cool down.

Shen Jian Bao (生煎包)

Multiple shen jiao bao, one of the types of Chinese dumplings, being cooked in a pan

A close sibling to xiao long bao, shen jian bao is a type of pan-fried baozi (generalized term for steamed, stuffed bun) that originated in Shanghai. 

Just like xiao long bao, these dumplings are made with a meaty filling that is folded with an aspic meat jelly. The dough for shen jian bao is thicker than xiao long bao dough, making it chewier and bread-like. 

After the dumplings are assembled, they are pan-fried until the bottom is crispy and browned, and then a small amount of water is added to the pan and covered with a lid to steam the dumplings. If this cooking style sounds familiar, it’s because it is; the crispy bottom and tender top are reminiscent of guo tie.

Though the two dumplings originated in different regions of China, this kinship in cooking methods shows just how similarly their foodways developed.

Tang Yuan (汤圆)

A paw print shaped tang yuan sits on a white spoon

The final dumpling is tang yuan, which are also known as “soup ball” dumplings. 

These dumplings are a traditional dessert made of glutinous rice flour mixed with water and shaped into small balls. The rice flour helps these dumplings keep a soft and chewy texture, which is often compared to dango, a Japanese rice ball treat. 

The balls can be filled with a variety of sweet or savory fillings, such as sesame paste, red bean paste, peanut sauce, or even minced meat. They are then boiled in water until tender and can then be served immediately or chilled.
Tang yuan are often served in a sweet soup or syrup made of water, sugar, and sometimes ginger.

The dish is commonly associated with festivals and holidays and is a dish that is often eaten during celebrations with close friends and family.

More like this:Common Types of Chinese Noodles

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