For the Love of Dumplings

By Jacqueline Church

A “taste of the heart” is just one of the translations for “dim sum,” but it’s one I favor. I find the description carries over to dumplings too, which are a major component of dim-sum and are featured at this time of Lunar New Year as a symbol of  good luck.

The Chinese aren’t alone in their love for dumplings. The Polish have pierogies, South Americans eat empanadas. Koreans munch mandu, and Italians have ravioli and tortellini. Ever heard of Swabian Maultaschen? That stuffed noodle-style dumpling hails from Germany, as do Munich’s knödle. Indians have samosas. Kreplach are the dumplings in Jewish soups. There’s hardly a familiar cuisine that doesn’t have some well-known version of a dumpling.

dumplings-postMy mother is Japanese and our dumplings are called gyōza. You may know them as pot-stickers. At home these tasty little pouches mean more than just luck. In a culture that doesn’t have ways to overtly communicate love, a favorite food will often convey the affection not easily expressed otherwise.

The first time I brought Caleb, my then-boyfriend, home to Maryland, Mom suggested we gather the family for blue crab, so we stopped at the fishmongers on the way home from the airport. As we sat down to lunch and Mom parceled out our plates, it was hard not to notice where her affection was focused. For her first born, (me); a crab cake. For my sister, the mother of her only grandchildren; a crab cake. For her youngest child, the only son; a crab cake. For the new boyfriend? A giant crab ball (think supersized crabcake) the size of a grapefruit! The “Crab Ball Incident” as it’s now known, was only the first inkling of her love for my now-husband.

On another early visit, Mom made her gyōza and was delighted to see how much Caleb enjoyed them. Once she learned that he adores dumplings, she was certain to have a batch ready to go upon his arrival. We don’t even have to ask now; the food-as-love theme plays out all on its own. If we’re coming to visit, there will be gyōza. I reap the benefits of course, enjoying them along side my husband. My siblings are not as lucky. Their portions usually get served to Caleb before they arrive. “I can make gyōza for them anytime. Eat, eat!”

Fumiko’s gyōza are delicious. They’ve become the bar against which all others (including mine) are measured. And all others fall short. Though mine are passable, “they’re not Fumiko’s,” Caleb laments. This is the silent love pact between my mother and my husband. She will always make gyōza for him and he will always love hers above all others.

And me? I couldn’t be happier.

jackie-thumbJacqueline Church is an independent writer whose work has appeared in Culture: the Word on Cheese, Edible Santa Barbara, and John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet. She often writes about gourmet food, sustainability issues and the intersection of the two on her blog Leather District Gourmet. Currently, she’s at work on Pig Tales: a Love Story about heritage breed pigs and the farmers and chefs bringing them from farm to table.


14 Replies to “For the Love of Dumplings”

  1. Love dumplimgs.. mama Kwan makes chive dumplings here and I lurvvvveeeee them! Will have to try and make Fumiko’s dumplings when feeling inspired! XOXO

  2. Coming from an Chinese family, I’m so with you on that re showing love via food. My hub gets special treatment whenever we go back to Singapore for vacation. LOL! He loves prawns and my mom will cook different type of dishes with prawns every day. And that plate of prawns is just for him alone – no one else in the family gets to touch that. LOL! She would also buy snacks for him and like typical Chinese family, keep feeding the new member of the family like she does with us. He is very pampered by my mom.

  3. A lovely take on my favorite food, Gyoza. Chinese may call it Kote. I always used regualr cabbage rather than Nappa cabbage. I don’t even salt the cabbage before or after shredding it. Plenty of salk in soy sauce. I like shredding the cabbage by hand, however, rather than by some other mechanical method. When wrapping, make sure use smaller spoonfuls than you think you want to. Only a small portions make the end result better tasting and better looking in presentation. I fold the upper layer of the wrap and press the edges together in the end lightly. Thanks for your nice piece! Love, Mom

  4. Wait… they have cabbage in them? You mean all this time, I’ve actually been eating something wtih a vegetable in it? Ack! Seriously, though, Mom’s gyoza is, indeed, the standard by which others are judged. I had some in a restaurant the other night, and it was good, but not Mom’s. I think part of it was the dipping sauce… it didn’t come with any. I just used regular soy sauce. Granted, I use that at Mom’s as well, but usually with some of the hot sesame oil mixed in. Yummy!

  5. The photo is for the vegetarian version – it looks more carrot-y in the photo but the mushrooms give it pure umami and nice texture. I’ll post it over at the blog.

    Mike, I bet you’d even like the meat-free version!

    These can also be boiled or steamed but we like the crunch.

  6. I missed out on going to Yank Sing in San Francisco last week (it was my own fault); one of the favorites for dim sum and now, after reading this, I am really hoping to make this recipe this weekend. Only 50 though, we better double it Li!

  7. Jo, Christopher –
    These are fun and delicious. I usually make them with pork, but the mushroom-carrot version were surprisingly (for meat-loving me) good. I’ve got some more photos, too, maybe I’ll post over on my blog…

    And yes, we can eat 50 without any trouble!

  8. Jesse – Gao Choy – garlic chives work really well here, too. Does Yin Fun steam, boil or fry? We like them all ways.

    Cooking Ninja – Doesn’t it make your heart feel full to watch Mom fuss over your sweetheart? I love it. He feels special and she feels appreciated…just wonderful.

    Vivian – I want to try my hand at some of your recipes. I’m thinking something classic like lumpia (another sort of dumpling, IMHO) or Adobo Chicken.

    – so glad to share tips and recipes.


  9. I love all these comments! And, mmmm, chive dumplings sounds fantastic too. And with that shrimp talk thrown in it makes me want to try shrimp-chive dumplings! Although, first, Fumiko’s! (so fun to see you here).

    And, Christopher, reading your post, I just remembered . . . do you recall the very first meal we ever cooked together? In my tiny Manhattan apartment 15 years ago? Yep — potstickers! I think we’ll definitely have to make them this weekend.

  10. I love chive dumplings and make them often. I love the taste of watercress, so I thought I’d try to make dumplings using that as a filling. The watercress filling turned out very slimy. I think it’s back to the drawing board for that one. Maybe I need to add some ground rice or something starchy to the filling to soak up the slime, but if anyone has suggestions for how to make watercress dumplings, I’m all ears!

  11. I was so moved by the back-story to these gyoza, Jacqueline. How nice that your mother dotes on your husband so. That’s exactly what family is supposed to be about. (That, and, obviously, gyoza.)

    My kids made some gyoza for the first time a few weeks ago for Chinese New Year, and I very much reaped the benefit. Let the gyoza making continue!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *