The other night I unwittingly impressed my dinner guests with this dish. "Wow," they said (all in unison, of course), "How ever did you manage to get the rice to stick to the meatballs?"
"By individually gluing on each grain of rice," I said.
"Really?" one person said.
See, this is why sarcasm should never be employed at dinner parties and other occasions in which you can't easily get away from your interlocuters.
But I just thought it was such an obvious trick, not much of a trick at all. The meatball mixture will be sticky, and so stuff will naturally cling to it. Almost anything will stick to your meatball mixture: dirt, blades of grass, grains of rice, just to name a few. (Of the three, only the last is recommended.) Grains of sticky (glutinous) rice, more so than other varieties of rice, will be especially, well, sticky, and so make the perfect pairing for the meatballs.
Maybe the question my guests should have asked was, "Why the heck would you want to roll around balls of ground meat mixture in rice?"
Because, it tastes really good. Imagine the juicy meat covered in a delicate layer of starch, so light and fluffy that the whole thing sort of melts in your mouth (or as much as ground meat could melt).
In fact the grains of rice look almost translucent, like little pearls embedded in jewels, hence the name "pearly meatballs."
I think this is an ingenious dish. Now, I don't want to go so far as to claim that this qualifies as a dumpling, but it's a nice play on the theme of dough encasing ground meat.