Dumplings: China’s Traditional Fast Food

Dumplings have been around for a long time in China. They are perhaps China’s original fast food. Dumplings come in a variety of different styles. 饺子 jiǎozi is generic name for dumplings. Traditionally they are eaten in the North of China, but really can be found all over as well. In fact, there are chain restaurants all over China that serve nothing but shuǐjiǎo, such as the popular Chain 大娘水饺 dàniǎng shuǐjiǎo (http://www.cnddr.com/eng/index.htm). They are also traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year. Boiled  jiǎozi, how they are typically eaten in the North and very popular in Beijing, are called 水饺 shuǐjiǎo. They are usually sold by weight, the 两 liǎng, which is 50 grams. The plate above has 2 liǎng.

Earlier this year I was wondering around north of the Forbidden City in Beijing, near the old Drum Tower, and found a wonderful small restaurant that served dozens of varieties of shuǐjiǎo. At this particular restaurant they had pork, beef, lamb, and egg shuǐjiǎo with dozens of varieties of each. Below is a shot from the pork shuǐjiǎo page of the menu. You can choose from pork with chives, cabbage, fennel, carrots, turnips, mushrooms, onions, peppers, to name a few.

shuǐjiǎo menu in Beijing

The skins are homemade (of course) are sometimes thick and chewy, and sometimes thin and almost transparent. They are usually dipped in a dark, rich vinegar. In some parts of China, usually farther south, the vinegar is mixed with a little soy sauce. In some areas they add chili oil as well. Jiǎozi can be a meal all by themselves, and are also often served at the end of a banquet.

Pot stickers 锅贴 guōtiē

Another wonderful variety of jiǎozi are pot stickers 锅贴 guōtiē. These dumplings are fried in a flat wok with oil until they are crispy on the bottom, then water or broth is added and a lid put on and steamed until done. When I was in China for the first time as a student at Nanjing University in 1985, pot stickers were about the only food we could find outside of large state-run restaurants and the school cafeteria. I loved them back then and I still love them and eat them every time I go to China. The potstickers below were ordered at a Muslim restaurant last month in Nanjing as part of a larger lunch.

Delicious guōtiē

The bottoms are fried crispy in oil.

Any traveler to China must eat a good plate of dumplings. The good news is that you should be able to find them all over China. You can order them in fancy, expensive restaurants, small nondescript restaurants, chain restaurants that specialize in dumplings, and and even on the street.