A pillar of Chinese cuisine, the dumpling is nearly always on the dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout China.
They’ve also proliferated around the world and many have found their way onto American plates. To the untrained eye, the scores of different kinds you might encounter on a restaurant menu can be hard to distinguish from one another. There are definitely the top hits, however—the staples you’ve learned to love.
Here’s a guide to those dumplings so you know exactly what to order the next time you sit down for dinner or Dim Sum.
Jiaozi are likely the most ubiquitous type of dumpling in China and can appear on the table during any meal. They consist of ground meat and vegetables stuffed inside a thin wrapper that’s then closed by delicately pleating the dough at the top. Most often steamed or boiled, Jiaozi are also sometimes fried.
Known in the West as potstickers, these dumplings are a street treat from Northern China that’s gained popular all over the country (and world). The most traditional Guo Tie are filled with pork, cabbage, scallions and rice wine and come straight, rather than long, and remain unclosed at each end. They’re then fried in a shallow wok, though sometimes they’re steamed first before having one side fried on a pan.
Xiao Long Bao
Xiao Long Bao—the classic bite-sized soup dumpling—is made by combining pork and gelatinized stock in a thin wrapper before steaming it in a covered bamboo basket, which in turn melts the solid stock into hot soup. Born in the Shanghai suburb of Nanxiang, they’re known today as a signature specialty of the metropolis.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying Cantonese Dim Sum, you’ve probably seen—and hopefully tried—Har Gow. These steamed dumplings have a rosy glow due to the delicate, translucent wrappers that show off the pink prawns inside. Har Gow are round, closed by pleating the dough into a crescent shape and, when done particularly well, are regarded as one of the signs of an expert Dim Sum chef.
The flirty cousin of Har Gow, Shu Mai are another type of steamed dumpling most often served for Dim Sum. They’re easy to spot as their wrappers are made with lye water and are pleated, but kept open so the filling of minced pork, shrimp, green onion and black mushrooms is shown. They’re also decorated with an orange dot of crab, carrot or (sometimes) a green pea.