The following is a result of my trek through the world of dumplings, the information gleaned from hours long research on the web and of course on the plate in front of me. Hey, it's my job! How do I know if I don't prepare and eat it myself? When finished reading, while you may not be an expert, you'll be a hit the next time you and your foodie friends bring up that oh so hot party topic....gnocchi.
From simple 'chicken and dumplings' to the more exotic international varieties, I'll delve into the starchy goodness of this wonderful little comfort food. It seems that nearly every nation has some form of dumpling, and it's easy to see why. They are tasty, versatile and when feeding a family, very filling. I'll cover some of the international variations, mostly sticking to the basics. Each nation's dumpling offering gives you a great starting point for your own recipe experimentation as well. You never know, 50 years from now, it could be your family's version that makes it into some future food writer's article. Let's get started...
The jiaozi is a common Chinese dumpling which generally consists of minced meat and chopped vegetables wrapped into a piece of dough. Popular meat fillings include ground pork, ground beef, ground chicken, shrimp and even fish. Popular mixtures are pork with Chinese cabbage, lamb with spring onion, leeks with eggs, etc. They are usually boiled or steamed and are a traditional dish for Chinese New Year's Eve. Family members gather together to make dumplings.
The other version of the Chinese dumpling is made of rice, with meat and vegetables stuffed into it. It is then steamed or boiled. If fried in a small amount of oil, they are called guotie or potstickers. Compared to wontons (dumplings served boiled in a soup), jiaozi have a thicker skin and are bigger. Wontons are traditionally wrapped in rectangular dough, jiaozi in round. Chinese cuisine also includes sweet dumplings and the commonly called tangyuan. These are smaller dumplings made with glutinous rice flour and filled with sweet sesame, peanut or red bean paste. There are also other kinds of dumplings such as har kao, siew mai, small cage-steamed bun (xiaolongbao), pork bun and crystal dumplings. When it comes to dim sum, just type the word in your browser and numerous descriptions are at your finger tips. Variations of Chinese dumplings are also found in the Philippines, Korea and Japan.
British and Irish Cuisine
Savory dumplings made from balls of dough are part of traditional British and Irish cuisine. The simplest dumplings are dropped into a bubbling pot of stew or soup, or into a casserole. They sit partly submerged in the stew and expand as they are half-boiled, half-steamed, for ten minutes or so. The cooked dumplings are airy on the inside and moist on the outside. The dough may be simply flavored with salt, pepper and herbs, or the dough balls may have a filling such as cheese pressed into their center. Cotswold dumplings call for the addition of breadcrumbs and cheese, and the balls of dough may be rolled in breadcrumbs and fried, rather than cooked in a soup or stew. These sour-dough dumplings, when sweetened and made with dried fruit and spices can be boiled in water to make a dessert. In Scotland, this is called a Clootie dumpling, after the cloth.
The Jamaicans created the first Caribbean dumplings, which were English-influenced. A simple recipe including self-rising flour, water and salt is made into a thick dough before frying on a pan until golden brown. These are usually rounded or rolled into balls and are served with Ackee and Saltfish or chicken as a side dish. Like English dumplings, they have a soft, fluffy texture. Eventually the recipe spread across the Caribbean as it reached the Lesser Antilles such as Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada and also the eastern section of the Dominican Republic, where the dish is known as dumplin. It was introduced to the island by immigrants from the British Lesser Antilles who went to work in the sugar industry. There is also a type of dumpling that is put into chicken stews. It is a mix of flour and water and boiled in the water with the meat. In Haiti there is a similar dumpling dish that is rolled into a ball or log shaped, which is then boiled in various soups, some which are known as bouillon.
In Rome, you can sample some of the best gnocchi every Thursday night in a citywide tradition. Florence is home to strozzapreti, a gnocchi so good, rumor and legend has it that priests of an earlier period had been known to choke from eating them too fast. In true Italian fashion, their name means 'priest-stranglers.' The word gnocchi means "lump" or "knot" and is originally a Germanic word that may describe the distinctive shape of gnocchi. These delicious lumps do not just vary from region to region, but from household to household as well, depending upon what is available. However, the most common way to prepare gnocchi is to combine potatoes (boiled, peeled and mashed) with flour to form soft bite-size lumps of dough. Each gnocchi is then ridged along one side like a seashell; this gives the sauce a surface to cling to when eating. Gnocchi also come in different sizes, with gnocchetti being the smallest version. Other types of gnocchi are made with semolina flour, milk and cheese, also known as Gnocchi alla Romana.
When it comes to sauces for gnocchi, almost anything is acceptable from butter and sage, to a rich cheese sauce (such as Gorgonzola), tomato sauce or even pesto. Gnocchi are both delicious and very filling, making great use of just a few ingredients in near limitless ways.
Dumplings or, as Jamaicans say, "dumplin," come in two forms: fried and boiled. Both are made with flour, either white or wheat, and the white-floured variety is often mixed with a bit of cornmeal. They are often served with dishes like Ackee, saltfish, kidneys, liver salt mackerel etc. and often taste better when refried. A refried dumplin is usually prepared a day after the boiled dumplin is first made. The boiled dumplin is thinly sliced and then fried, which gives it a slightly crispy outer layer and a tender middle. A purely fried white flour dumplin is golden brown and looks a lot like a roll, it is enjoyed predominantly as part of breakfast.
In Peru there are a number of dishes that may be classified as dumplings. "Papas Rellenas" or stuffed potatoes consist of a handful of mashed potatoes (without the milk and butter) flattened in the palm of the hand and stuffed with a savory combination of ingredients. The stuffing usually consists of sauteed meat (could be beef, pork or chicken), onions and garlic. They are all seasoned with cumin, South American chillies, called Aji, raisins, peanuts, olives and sliced or chopped hard boiled eggs. After stuffing a ball is formed, rolled in flour and deep fried in hot oil. The stuffed potatoes are usually accompanied by onion sauce consisting of sliced onions, lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and slices of fresh chilli peppers. The same dish may also be made with seafood. In some countries yucca puree is used as the starch component of these Latin American dumplings.
Central European Cuisine
In Germany, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, dumplings, both sweet and savory, have been a staple of families for generations. A dumpling is called Klöße in Northern Germany, Knöpfle or Knödel in Southern Germany and Austria. There are flour dumplings, the most common dumplings, thin or thick, made with eggs and semolina flour, boiled in water. Meat dumplings (called Klopse or Klöpse in North-Eastern Germany, Knöpfe and Nocken are in Southern Germany) contain meat or liver. Liver dumplings are frequent additions to soup. The most famous German meat dumplings are Königsberger Klopse which contain anchovy or salted herring and are eaten with caper sauce. Thüringer Klöße are made from raw or boiled potatoes, or a mixture of both, and are often filled with croutons. Bread dumplings are made with white bread and are sometimes shaped like a loaf of bread, and boiled in a napkin, in which case they are known as napkin dumplings (Serviettenknödel). In the Hungarian cuisine the dumplings are called galuska - small dumplings made from a thick flour and egg batter which is cut into small pieces, and thrown into boiling water, similar to Spätzle or Knödel. Sweet dumplings are made with flour and potato batter, by wrapping the potato dough around whole plums or apricots, boiled and rolled in hot buttered bread crumbs. Shlishkes or Krumplinudli are small boiled potato dumplings made like the sweet plum dumplings, also rolled in hot buttered bread crumbs.
Eastern European Cuisine
In Norway, dumplings have a vast variety of names, as the dialects differ a lot. Names include (ready inhale): potetball, klubb, kløbb, raspeball, komle, kumle, kompe, kumpe, kodla, kudle, klot, kams, ball, baill, komperdøse, kumperdøse, kompadøs, ruter, ruta, raskekako, risk, klotremat, krumme and kromme. (Whew, say that five times fast!) Usually made from potatoes and various types of flour and boiled, occasionally containing pork, like bacon, in the middle. In some areas it is common to use syrup along with the dumplings.
In the north, they are usually called Palt, or Pitepalt, filled with salted pork and eaten with melted butter and lingonberry jam. In the south it is called Kroppkaka, and is usually filled with smoked pork, raw onions and coarsely ground pepper and served with cream and lingonberry jam.
Nepal, Tibet and Sikkim's steamed dumplings are known as 'momos' and are a popular snack. Similar to the Chinese jiaozi, they probably arrived with the influx of Tibetan refugees into Nepal during the 1950s. Many different fillings, both meat-based and vegetarian, are common. It is also very famous in Newar Communities which has adopted the dish and is one of the mostly eaten snacks and meal in Kathmandu Valley. The people there have adopted the dish calling it MO:MOcha (mo mo) in newari.
Karanji are fried sweet dumplings made of wheat flour and stuffed with dry coconut delicacies. They are popular with the Maharastrians and the South Indians. Also popular is the Modak, made of fresh coconut, jaggery or sugar and steamed rice dough. It is eaten hot with ghee.
Bocchan dango is a fried dumpling made from eggs and eaten with dashi and known as akashi no tamagoyaki. Similarly shaped dumplings, but with octopus (or sometimes konnyaku) and flavored with pickled ginger, negi (welsh onion) and other ingredients, are a Kansai dish known as takoyaki. The gyoza is the Japanese version of the Chinese jiaozi. Made from rice flour it is often served with green tea.
Called mandu they are similar to Chinese and Japanese dumplings. Typically filled with a mixture of ingredients; ground pork, kimchi, vegetables, or cellophane noodles, there are many variations. Steamed, fried, or boiled, they can also be used to make a soup called mandu guk(soup).
Chicken and Dumplings is easily the most common preparation using dumplings in the United States. Popular varieties of southern dumplings can be made with eggs, milk, baking powder and/or yeast, or just flour and water. In Kentucky, dough is dumped into boiling chicken broth along with a variety of vegetables. In the Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania, "Pot Pie" is dough made from flour and broth [usually ham], cut into squares and boiled in the same broth with potatoes.
There you have it. Well, most of it anyway. I am always fascinated by the fact that the more I explore the world of food with and, for you, the more I am convinced that many food traditions prepared by families throughout the world, expose the commonality of being human. Though raised in diverse locations, with different cultures and backgrounds, there are certain cuisine staples that cross international boundaries. Most of us, no matter who we are or where we live, can remember some form of dumpling and those things that define comfort food for us. Dumplings are universal. Though the names are different, the faces, the memories and flavors are strangely familiar. Imagine that, a dumpling version of six degrees of separation. Who knew?