Everybody loves dumplings. No matter where you’re from or what your dietary restrictions are, there’s a dumpling option for you.
It’s such a simple concept – a cooked ball of dough. You can stuff it with meat, vegetables, fish. Make the dough from pasta, bread, potatoes. The options are really endless. Which is probably why dumplings are beloved in one form or another all over the world.
When you think about it, every nation has their own version. Italians have ravioli, the Germans cook spätzle, Poland loves their pierogies, Cubans make papas rellenas, and there’s no Jewish person I know who doesn’t yearn for a matzoh ball now and again.
But when we in New York think of dumplings (the word alone, not the concept), we think of cheap fried or steamed options down in Chinatown. The Chinese were probably the first to experiment with the idea of dumplings. There are two major types of Chinese dumplings and both have interesting legends attached to them.
Jioza (the crescent shaped dumplings, also called pot stickers) were supposedly invented in Ancient China by a doctor named Zhang Zhongjing who put hot meat and medicine inside a dough wrapper to treat poor people with frostbite. So think of that the next time you have a bag of dumplings in the winter and pass by a homeless person.
And then according to another legend, Baozi (steamed round bun-like dumplings) were created during the 2nd Century AD by Zhuge Liang, a military strategist who made the dumplings in the shape of a human head to use as a sacrifice and nourishment when his soldiers caught a plague. If only our military men of today were as resourceful.
New York’s first Chinese restaurant opened in the 1880’s when the Chinese Exclusion Act limited the number of Chinese immigrants in the city. But when the immigration quota was lifted in 1968, Chinese people flooded into New York (many from San Francisco) and they continued to bring their culture and dumplings with them. Since then the Chinese population has grown so much in New York that there are now three major Chinatown hubs in the NYC area (we all know Canal Street, but there’s also Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Flushing in Queens). In fact, New York’s Chinese population is the largest outside of Asia.
Strangely, American Chinese food has metamorphosized into new dishes like General Tso’s chicken, pu pu platters, and crab rangoon. However, one of the few authentic Chinese dishes Americans are familiar and comfortable with are the dumplings. And while they weren’t created in New York, this is the city where you can easily ignore those generically named take-out shops and find some delicious dumplings in a land that makes you feel like you’re in a foreign country – that feeling that can only happen in New York.
So bring on the soup dumplings, the potstickers, the wontons. As long as it’s Chinese inspired and New York made, I’m going to shut up and… Eat This!
Click here to see the dumpling reviews.