When Bruce & I lived in San Francisco, we would go to a Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood on Sunday mornings for dim sum. We had to go early as the place would fill up quickly with hungry diners waiting to eat those delightful little dishes. We had our favorites, of course, and were always willing to try something new on occasion. Once we moved to the Oregon coast, our weekly dim sum breakfast tradition became a memory as there are no restaurants that serve it here in the same way. I always felt that making those dumplings myself would be too hard or too much trouble, so I didn’t bother with trying, or I should say I lacked the courage to try. Whenever Bruce & I traveled anywhere on vacation, we would always look for a dim sum restaurant to go to, but were so often disappointed by the lack of flavor and/or quality we were used to.
Late last year, I discovered a wonderful video class website called Craftsy. They have all kinds of DIY classes you can take and cooking is one of them! Top notch chefs teach the classes and you can view them again and again as often as you like as your access never expires. One of the classes offered is an Asian dumpling class taught by Andrea Nguyen, a well know Asian food chef and author. I bought the class and watched the videos and realized that dim sum is really no more difficult to make than ravioli which I have been making for over 30 years! I was so excited that I immediately bought Andrea’s book Asian Dumplings to learn more. I went to see Mai at Mai’s Asian Market here in Newport and bought all the ingredients I needed to make my first batch of dumplings. Mai is a godsend here in our little town. She has just about anything and everything you would need for any kind of Asian, Indian, or Middle Eastern dish and I love her for that.
I started out by making Korean Mandu, a dumpling that is filled with tofu and kimchee and served with a tangy dipping sauce. The dough is a simple one of flour and water; however, I added rice flour to mine to make it extra chewy, used shrimp instead of tofu in the filling and they turned out delicious! The shape of this dumpling is called ‘big hug’, but it also looks like an Italian tortelloni.
The next dumpling I made was Shanghai Soup dumplings, which are Bruce’s absolute favorite. They are filled with pork and a gelatinized soup that melts during steaming, so when you bite into it, you get a mouthful of soup along with the rest of the filling. They are served with Chinese black vinegar and finely shredded fresh ginger. The shape of this dumpling is called ‘closed satchel’ because it looks like a purse.
I was on a roll now. I made shrimp dumplings next and upped the game by using wheat and tapioca starches instead of flour for the wrapper. This dumpling is pure white and turns translucent when it is steamed. I had always thought these dumplings were made with rice flour and making them could not be achieved at home, but I was wrong as they were so easy to make and delicious to eat!. This type of shape is called the ‘pleated crescent’.
My final dumpling was Japanese pot stickers or Gyoza. Like Chinese pot stickers, they are fried, steamed and fried again to obtain a crispy bottom. My mom made Gyoza when I was growing up with wonton wrappers, so I was familiar with making and eating them. I made my own extra chewy dough with rice and wheat flours again. This shape is called the ‘pea pod’ and they were yummy!
Since my exploration into Asian dumplings, I have made others too numerous to mention here. All have been easy to make and all have been delicious. The sky is the limit on the fillings just like ravioli or other stuffed Italian pastas. I have realized through this exploration that the only thing that gets in my way is myself. I left San Francisco for the Oregon coast in 1997 and have been pining for dim sum ever since. Almost 17 years later, I discovered that I can make my own with as good or even better results as the beloved restaurant I used to frequent and I can have them whenever I want. I thank Craftsy and Andrea Nguyen for showing me how easy it is to make my own Asian dumplings and I hope I have inspired you to go and make something you’ve been wanting to try, but just haven’t had the the courage to do so. Courage is all you need to master cooking any type of dish or cuisine. Once you try it, you realize, like me, that it’s easy, fun and good to eat. A presto!