Making Chinese Dumplings – a cross-cultural experience
“What are dumplings like in China?” I asked my backdoor neighbor from Shanghai. ”Are they like American Chicken and Dumplings, made from biscuit-like dough and steeped in gravy?” As a romantic suspense writer, I often show my characters eating food in other countries, but have never mentioned characters eating Chinese food in a restaurant.
Kathy smiled and answered my question by saying, “Come tomorrow at 2:00 and I will teach you to make some.”
After I knocked on her back door, she invited me in and showed me a bowl with a green and beige mixture. “That’s fresh ground pork and watercress from a Chinese market.”
She showed me how to spread a rounded teaspoon of the pork mixture on flour dumpling skins, thin four by four squares of dough. That part was easy. I moistened the top edge and folded the bottom over the pork. Then I had to flip the top 1/4th inch down, moisten the bottom left corner, twist the dough to the back, and pinch the tails together beneath the lump. The whole thing was supposed to look like a nun’s head with a cap hanging down the sides. It took me several tries to get it right.
She set a bunch on a container’s plastic top dusted with flour to keep them from sticking and set the whole thing in the freezer. When they were frozen, she slid them into the bag.
On the stove sat a pan with chicken broth. When it boiled, she slid the dumplings into the liquid. When the dumplings finally rose to the top, she turned off the burner and added a bowl of cold water. “Now,” she said. “we must wait for the broth to boil and the dumplings to rise to the top again.”
After she pronounced them done, she gave me a bowl with plain dumplings, accompanied by magenta colored rice vinegar to dip the dumpling in. Her husband, Ted, an American who’d lived in Shanghai several years, gave me a spoon and handed me chopsticks. He then gave me a lesson on using chopsticks. One should be held steady, braced against my middle finger, while the other moves to secure the item of food. I tried to pick up the dumpling with the chopsticks, but had to settle for the spoon. I dipped the dumpling in the rice vinegar, made from sweet rice and took a bite. I was surprised to find it was tasty and not as sour as I expected.
As I ate the dumplings Kathy had served me in chicken broth, I stuck to using the spoon. These were good, also. I asked if the Chinese ever put any vegetables in the broth along with the dumplings, but Kathy said that was never done. However, the vegetables mixed with the pork might vary, according to what was available, like carrots, and she sometimes made dumplings with shrimp..
Now for the supreme test, preparing some for my husband. Kathy gave me a clear, plastic bag with nine dumplings we had made to take home. The next day I boiled beef broth and dropped in the frozen dumplings. Like I’d been instructed, I waited until the broth boiled, and the dumplings rose to the top. I turned off the heat on my electric stove, poured a small bowl of cold water into the pan, then turned on the heat to high. After the liquid boiled, and the dumplings rose to the top, I filled two bowls with the soup and two dumplings each. We had to wait a few moments until it was cool enough to eat, but they tasted good.
My husband asked how I liked doing Chinese cooking, and I replied it seemed like a lot of work, but I enjoyed learning how dumplings were made in the southern area of China.