"WHAT THE HECK I HAVE EATEN SO MANY DUMPLINGS" was what Robyn said to me when I asked her to look through her photo collection to help round out this gallery of dumplings from around the world. If I think back on my own life, I end up saying the same thing in my mind.
My favorite food growing up (and to this day) was my mother's beef-filled Japanese-style gyoza (which my sister and I affectionately called "little dumps"). Before we were married, my wife survived for months on frozen dumplings that I brought her from Boston. We still make dumplings a few times a year. Several times a month I'll find myself walking into one of the myriad $1 dumpling shops, or if I want to splurge, it's $4.95 for soup dumplings at Shanghai Café Deluxe.
There's something extraordinarily satisfying about biting into a perfect dumpling—the tug of dough, the burst of steam, the first hit of stuffing, its flavor intensified by being hermetically sealed inside its edible cooking vessel.
Of course, when we're talking dumplings, we don't have to limit ourselves to China. We present the Serious Eats Guide To Dumplings Around The World!
Click through the slideshow above, or click any link below to jump straight to a specific slide.
Disclaimer: The word "dumpling" can have many different meanings. For our definition, we're only counting foods made by wrapping a dough around a filling, intended to be consumed in three bites or fewer. So things like gnocchi or matzo balls don't count. Perhaps we'll do another dumpling roundup for dough-ball dumplings in the future.
Pretty much all roads in the dumpling ancestry path lead to China. The country is crawling with dumplings of all shapes and sizes with different makes of fillings, wrappers, and cooking methods.
Depending on who you ask, Chinese dumplings can be divided into a number of different categories. Those made with pure wheat flour doughs vs. those made with rice flour or tapioca starch. Steamed vs. fried. Leavened vs. un-leavened.
Trying to classify something as wildly popular and diverse as a Chinese dumpling is an exercise in futility. Even more futile is trying to define what is "authentic" and what is not. (See here for a great discussion on the topic).
But most folks draw the line based on the shape of the dumpling. On menus in New York, crescent-shaped dumplings (gao or jiao, usually made with an unleavened dough) are commonly translated as "dumpling," while purse-shaped dumplings (bao, made with either an unleavened or leavened dough) are translated as "buns," even when there's nothing particularly bun-like about them (think: soup dumplings, which appear on menus as "littly juicy buns").
Crescent-shaped dumplings are made by folding a thin, round circle of dough around a filling and pleating or crimping the edges. (Here's how to make them at home). It can then be cooked through a variety of methods—steaming, boiling, and pan-frying are all common. Here are a few you might encounter in the wild (click to jump):
Guo Tie (A.K.A. potstickers): Made with fresh wrappers and eaten straight out of the wok (or frying pan, of you prefer), they rank up there with burgers and mapo tofu as World's Awesome Foodstuff. The perfect fried dumpling should have a golden brown, ultra-crisp fried bottom, with a skin that's springy and chewy, but never tough or doughy. The fillings can vary by taste, but our favorite combination is pork and cabbage.
Shui Jiao (boilied dumplings): Boiled dumplings made with a wheat-based wrapper, pinched into a crescent. Pork and vegetable are common fillings.
Zheng Jiao (steamed dumplings): More delicate than boiled dumplings, made with a very thin wrapper that can be made from any number of starches. The fillings range from pork and chives, to shrimp, cabbage, or any number of vegetables.
Har Gow: Translucent shrimp dumplings with a wheat starch skin that's cut with tapioca to give it extra stretchiness and translucency. Pork, scallions, and bamboo shoots are often used to flavor it. These are one of the most difficult dumplings to make properly: the skin should be translucent yet sturdy, slightly chewy but not tough, with perfectly cooked, crisp shrimp inside.
Chiu-Chao Fun Gow: Thin starch-enhanced wrappers filled with a crunchy, fresh-tasting mix of shrimp, pork, and peanuts, often flavored with cilantro and crisp chunks of jicama. These are awesome if you're looking for a unique textural experience in your dumplings.
Haam Sui Gok: Deep fried dumplings made from glutinous rice dough. They come out blistered and crispy with a chewy, lightly doughy layer underneath the crispness. Fillings range from pork and sausage to coconut or sweet bean paste.
Purse-shaped dumplings are dumplings that are formed with a round of dough that is pleated and drawn towards the top of the fillings like a draw-string purse. (Here's how to make them at home). In form and nomenclature, they are very similar to thick, bready, Chinese-style steamed buns, but for our purposes, we made a distinction between bready steamed buns and the decidedly dumpling-like versions made with thinner wrappers.
Jiu Cai Bau: Wheat starch skin dumplings stuffed with chives that are subsequently pan-fried to give them a crisp crust.
Xiao Long Bao: If you've yet to experience XLB (as those cool kids in the know like to refer to them in tweets), they're made by gently folding a gelatin-rich pork or pork-and-crab-based filling into a thin round of stretchy wheat dough. The dough gets gathered up and pleated into a cute little swirled bun with a tiny nipple at the top. As the dumpling gets subsequently steamed, the gelatin-rich broth in the filling melts out, filling up the delicately steamed wrapper with savory liquid soup that must be carefully sucked out before the rest of the dumpling can be consumed.
Sheng Jian Bao: A fried bun-like dumpling made with a very thick skin, cooked in large cast iron pans so that the bottoms crisp up and fry while the tops delicately steam. Like xiaolongbao, they have juicy, pork-filled centers.
Siu Mai: Open-topped steamed pork and/or shrimp dumplings made with a wheat flour wrapper, they often come topped with fish roe or grated carrot, or occasionally a single pea.
Other Chinese Dumplings
These are other meat-inside-a-starchy-filling Chinese treats that didn't fit neatly into the first categories, but deserve recognition.
Wu Gok (fried taro dumplings): Crispy, wispy, slightly sweet fried purple taro surrounding a center of savory pork filling, wu gok are a study in contrasts.
Won Ton: Large dumplings made with square wrappers around a pork and cabbage filling. You most often see them boiled and served in broth along with cabbage, though you might also find them served on their own or even deep fried.
Tang Yuan (sweet sticky glutinous rice dumplings): Sweet glutinous rice dumplings that are often filled with rock candy, sesame paste, peanuts, or bean paste. They can be served on their own or in a sweet bean, sesame, or ginger soup.
Other East and South Asian Dumplings
The Chinese dumpling culture has had a huge influence on the cuisines of neighboring countries, almost all of which have dumpling forms of their own.
A wide variety of dumplings fall under this umbrella. Mulmandu are boiled stuffed dumplings, while jjinmandu are steamed dumplings. Gunmandu are pan fried. They can be filled with anything from pork or beef to kimchi or fish.
Mandu (Korea): A wide variety of dumplings fall under this umbrella. Mulmandu are boiled stuffed dumplings, while jjinmandu are steamed dumplings. Gunmandu are pan fried. They can be filled with anything from pork or beef to kimchi or fish.
Gyoza (Japan): The Japanese version of guo tie, featuring a much thinner skin and a pork-based filling often flavored with garlic. They're serve pan-fried at ramen shops and Chinese restaurants. The best shops will pan fry them in specially-made cast iron pans, first steaming them with water. The washed off starches from the dumplings form a lacy crust on the bottom of the ban that can be carefully lifted, fusing the dumplings into one solid piece that remains crisp as you eat it.
Momos (Tibet/Nepal): Dumplings that are thicker, breadier, and heartier than their Chinese counterpart. Spicy fillings that can have curry-like flavors and hearty meats and vegetables like potato, beef, and yak. They're steamed or fried and served with chili sauce. Sometimes a tomato-based sauce hots sauce or chicken broth will come along with it.
Thai-style Rice Dumplings: Made with fresh steamed rice noodles and sprinkled with sweet fried shallots, these dumplings closely resemble Vietnamese-style Bánh Cuốn.
Samosas (India): Savory dumplings that are deep fried or pan fried with a filling of vegetables, potato, or lamb, often heavily spiced and served with chutneys.
Gujia (India): Crescent shaped dumplings stuffed with a sweet mixture of fruits and coconut, deep-fried until crisp.
Modak (India): Sweet dumplings made from coconut and jaggery sugar stuffed into a rice-flour dough.
Other Central Asian and Eastern European Dumplings
Dumplings that have spread from China through Europe
Pierogi (Polish boiled-then-fried dumplings): Boiled-then-fried (or baked) wheat flour dumplings stuffed with potato, sauerkraut, meat, or fruit. They're made into crescent shapes and pan-fried flat.
Vareniki (Ukranian dumplings): The Ukrainian version of pierogi are commonly stuffed with sauerkraut, cheese, potatoes, and meat, or can be served sweet with fruits and cheese. They're cooked by boiling or steaming and served with oil or butter.
Pelmeni (Russia): Wheat-based dumpling with a havily spiced filling (black pepper and other Eastern European spices), usually stuffed with strongly seasoned meat—Beef, pork, or mutton or common choices. It originates from Siberian cuisine, via China.
Kreplach (Jewish): Jewish dumplings resembling Italian tortellini, they come filled with meat or potatoes and are served in broth. Like some Italian pastas, the dough is enriched with egg.
Khinkali (Georgian soup dumplings): A large dumpling resembling a xiaolongbao filled with spiced meat that releases juices as it cooks. It's commonly served with freshly ground black pepper.
Manti (Saucy Armenian dumplings): Most often stuffed with spiced lamb, Armeniian manti can come served in a spiced, tomatoey sauce along with yogurt and Middle Eastern spices like pepper and sumac
Other Dumpling-like Objects
Not quite dumplings, but they still fall into our "small object made of stuffed dough" definition.
Dumpling the dog (Harlem): The tastiest dumpling around.*
*no longer available.
Empanadas (South America): While the wheat-flour version of empanadas is similar to a pie crust and therefore doesn't qualify by our definition of a stuffed dumpling, the corn-based varieties common to Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica are made with an unleavened dough and therefore do. The filling can range from potato to ground meat to a variety of other seeds, meats, and vegetables.
Carimañolas (Colombia): Dumplings stuffed with meat or cheese with a wrapper made from cooked yucca dough. They are deep fried until crisp.
Stuffed Pasta (Italy): Ravioli, tortellini, and other stuffed pastas all fit our basic definition of stuffed dumplings. Thin dough wrapper around a filling, in this case most commonly meat, cheese, or cooked vegetables, though it can really be anything. Gnocchi are technically dumplings, but we're not including simple boiled or steamed dough variants in our guide.
Burgerogi: This is what happens when you combine a hamburger with a pierogi...
Cheeseburger Dumplings (yes, really): ...and this is what happens when you cross a cheeseburger with a potsticker.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. What did we miss on our list?
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.