Chinese dumplings (Jiǎozi) are said to be over 1400 years old. They are popular in almost the whole of China but are considered one of the staple foods in North China. They’re usually eaten throughout the year and especially on special occasions such as Chinese new year. While most foreigners have heard of or tried Chinese dumplings before, only a handful few knows in-depth about this ear-shaped delicacy.
1. Origin of the Chinese dumplings
There are several versions that exist to explain the origin of Chinese dumpling. One of the most common folk stories about Chinese dumpling suggests that jiao zi was invented by the Chinese medical saint, Zhang Zhongjing. According to the tale, dumplings were first invented for medical use to treat frostbitten ears.
In ancient time, many common people in China didn’t have enough clothes to keep themselves warm and suffered from hunger in winter. Zhang Zhongjing used stewed lamb, pepper and herbs as ingredients, and chopped and wrapped them with small dough wrappers. These dumplings were then boiled and served with broth to his patients. The reason why Chinese dumpling has an ear shape is probably because it was used to treat frostbitten ears in ancient China.
2. Types of Chinese dumplings
Chinese dumplings vary by the types of ingredients that go into them and the way they are cooked. The three most-commonly had dumplings are boiled, steamed and pan fried dumplings. Not only are the methods of cooking different, dumplings even have different names in Chinese: 煎饺子Jiān jiǎozi, 馄饨 húntún, 水饺 shuǐjiǎo are just some of them. These dumplings are also wrapped in different shapes to differentiate the different types. To really taste the authentic flavours of Chinese dumplings, you would have to come to China to try them.
You can choose different types of dumpling fillings if you go to a typical “dumpling house” in China. Methods of preparation also vary widely from region to region. Meat fillings including pork, lamb and beef are often mixed together with chopped vegetables.
4. How to make dumplings
The most important step of making a dumpling is to put multiple pleats along the edge of the wrapper in order to make a wavy edge like a pie crust. However, just like the fillings of dumplings, there are different ways to make dumplings and to obtain different shapes. As different shapes require different techniques, making Chinese dumplings can be quite a challenge for foreigners, but it’s fun for sure!
Join a dumpling making party!
That’s Mandarin school in Beijing and Shanghai often organizes cooking classes for its students. Among the most popular ones is the dumpling making class. If you’re ever in Beijing or Shanghai, come join our cooking class. We welcome students and non-students to participate in this fun activity!