For this instalment of one dish around the world, we’re looking at dumplings. What qualifies as a dumpling? Dough wrapped around filling or dough with no filling, fried, steamed, boiled, or baked. The dough can be made of any starch — wheat, rice, and potato are all common — and the filling sweet or savoury, from Romanian plum dumplings (galuste cu prune) to Brazilian deep-fried, shredded-chicken-filled coxinha. This is not an exhaustive list of dumplings but rounds up a few delicious varieties from around the world.
If there’s a dumpling in your mind’s eye, it’s most certainly this Chinese staple, eaten across the Middle Kingdom. The iconic pleated, crescent-shaped dumplings are jiaozi. When boiled they’re called shuijiao (shui means water), when steamed zhengjiao and, when pan-fried with that beautiful lacy crust, guotie (sometimes called “pot stickers”). The most standard jiaozi is minced pork with chives, but beef, chicken, shrimp, and mutton are all common, usually with chopped vegetables like leek, mushroom, carrot, scallion, and Napa cabbage. A delicious and popular vegetarian option is egg with chive and leek.
Broadly speaking, northern Chinese dumplings have thicker skins than those in the south, which are thinner and more translucent — think har gow, the steamed shrimp dumpling dim sum staple. Then there are soup dumplings: dumplings eaten in soup are wontons (their wrapper is square where jiaozi wrappers are round); dumplings filled with soup are xiaolongbao, those daintily pleated morsels served in their bamboo steamer and bursting with fragrant broth.
Gyoza are nearly identical in shape to jiaozi but usually have a more pronounced garlicky flavour. They’re most commonly made with minced pork, a bit of cabbage, chives, sesame oil, and/or garlic and ginger. They’re eaten boiled and fried, but the most popular cooking style sees the gyoza first pan-fried so one side has a crispy skin, then steamed quickly in a pan. The result is an addictively crunchy crust that gives way to an aromatic interior. Dip them in a mix of soy sauce and rice vinegar and dab on the chilli oil for a spicy kick.
Mandu are similar to jiaozi and gyoza in shape and filling. They’re either crescent shaped or round (a half-moon with the ends brought together) and filled with minced pork, beef, or shrimp and vegetables like Napa cabbage and bean sprouts. Kimchi is also a common filling and adds a delightful punch and textural contrast. Mandu’s name changes depending on the filling and how they’re cooked. Use shrimp and they’re called saewu mandu; meat and they’re called gogi mandu. Steam your dumplings and they’re jin mandu; pan-fry them for a delectably crispy crust and they’re gun mandu.
There are a number of dumplings sweet and savory eaten across India. Gujiya look like empanadas, with a half-moon shape and crimped crust; they're made with semolina or all-purpose flour and filled with khoa (a very low-moisture fresh cheese), dried fruits like raisins, and chopped nuts, and fried in ghee. A popular roadside snack in north India, kachori are puffy balls of dough filled with dal seasoned with spices like fennel, coriander, and garam masala and then fried. We’d be remiss not to name-check samosas, that most widely eaten dumpling, a deep-fried triangle or cone of a wheat dough enfolding potato, peas, and onion seasoned with garam masala, ginger, and sometimes fennel. You can often find them with a chicken, beef, lamb, or cheese filling, too. Scarf them down with a cilantro and mint chutney.
Pierogi are a hearty Polish staple boiled and then sometimes pan-fried. The dough is wheat based (sometimes with an egg, occasionally with sour cream to make it lighter) and the shape always a semi-circle. Fillings can be savoury or sweet: mashed potatoes, quark, cabbage, and sauerkraut are very common, as are sweetened quark or seasonal fruits (cherry, plum, apple) for dessert pierogi. In Ukraine, a pierogi is a varenyky, and the savoury ones are served with sour cream or butter and topped with fried onions and fried pieces of bacon.
Semolina dumplings in a fragrant chicken soup (supa de galusti) is a Romanian classic, the dumplings soft and fluffy and the soup deeply warming. For dessert, slice into plum dumplings (galuste cu prune) — juicy plums encased in a sweet potato dough, boiled and then rolled in breadcrumbs fried with sugar, vanilla, and butter — served with a dollop of sour cream or jam.
Three types of pasta qualify as dumplings: ravioli, tortellini, and gnocchi. Tortellini and ravioli are dough encasing a filling — think cheese, spinach, meat, seafood, and mushrooms. Gnocchi are unfilled, the dough made of egg, potato, semolina, flour, and sometimes ricotta. You’ll notice that round mandu and tortellini look very similar — in a pinch, you can even use dumpling skins to make tortellini.
Empanadas are eaten in every corner of Argentina, and the most basic formula you’ll find from tip to top is a wheat dough encasing onions, olives, hard-boiled egg, and ground beef, shaped into a half moon and baked in the oven. Although food in Argentina skews meat heavy, other common empanada fillings include mushrooms, cheese, even a Caprese version (at least 60% of Argentines have some Italian ancestry). Empanadas are beloved and eaten across Latin America: in Chilean empanadas you can find razor clams, shrimp, and mussels; in Bolivia, where one variety of empanadas is called salteñas, a thick outer crust gives way to a stew of beef of chicken with potatoes and peas; vegetarians can go for llauchas, filled with salty, low-moisture cheese.
Light is not the word you’d use to describe coxinha, a triangular chicken croquette. It's composed of a wheat flour, chicken broth, and sometimes mashed potato mix filled with shredded chicken, requeijão (like cream cheese in texture), and onions, parsley, and scallions for added flavor. The dumpling is then coated in bread crumbs and deep fried. Cheese-only versions are commonly found at snack bars across Brazil, but take note, vegetarians: the dough may still contain chicken broth.