Around the World in Dumplings

Forget around the world in 80 days, we’d rather eat 80 dumplings around the world! From gyoza in Osaka to tortellini in Bologna, you’ll find different kinds of dumplings in almost every culture. Whether you like stuffed pasta or dim sum, there’s something for everyone in almost every city. As my ultimate food comfort, my dad makes the best stuffed pasta - at least in my opinion - but during my last trip abroad I decided to check out some of the places where this delicious dish originated from and was blown away at the flavours I had never experienced before! I realised that for a truly authentic dumpling, nothing beats going back to the country or city where they were created! From Hong Kong to Budapest, you have a world to choose from! I decided to make a list of my six favourite dumplings from around the world, which I am now sharing with you. I hope you enjoy!

Hong Kong - dim sum

Dim sum is more than just eating dumplings, it’s a whole experience that’s an important part of Hong Kong’s heritage and culture. The ritual of sharing baskets of steamed, fried or grilled dumplings and buns began as something to nibble on while drinking tea, so you’ll also find the experience referred to as yum cha, which literally means ‘drink tea’. Dim sum is part of the lifestyle in Hong Kong, so while you’re in town make sure you experience it like a local! It’s never easy to choose which of these bite-sized dishes to order, but you can’t go wrong with the usual suspects that you’ll find at almost every teahouse and dim sum restaurant.

When I was in Hong Kong, I found that the best dumplings were siu mai (pork and prawn dumplings), fried turnip cake, old fashioned Chinese style sausage rolls, bbq steamed pork buns and prawn cheung fun (rice rolls). For a classic Cantonese experience, where harried servers race around the dining room pushing trolleys stacked with bamboo baskets head to Lin Heung Tea House. Here you will find a loud and lively atmosphere and old-school dishes that you won't find anywhere such as siu mai topped with liver. 

For vintage elegance, you can’t go wrong with the Luk Yu Tea House, a beautiful Chinese tea house where you’ll find traditional dishes and local families enjoying dim sum together. City Hall Maxim’s Palace is another quintessentially Hong Kong dim sum joint, where trolleys are wheeled around in the traditional style and large family groups noisily order the dishes their favourite dishes and eat their dumplings.

Taipei - xiao long bao

During my travels, which became a pilgrimage to taste dumplings from around the world, I stopped at Taipei, where I fell in love with xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, which are probably Taiwan’s most famous culinary export. These are a delicate, impossibly thin skinned dumplings traditionally stuffed with juicy pork and then steamed. Now imagine this - when steamed, the filling creates a rich yet light broth, so when you bite into the dumpling the hot soup comes pouring out! But there’s an art form to eating these dumplings; they should be dipped in vinegar and soy sauce, which perfectly balances the fattiness of the pork, then placed on a spoon and topped with wafer thin slices of fresh ginger.

You then poke a hole into the side to release the soup onto your spoon, and voila - dumpling heaven! No trip to Taipei would be complete without making the foodie’s pilgrimage to Din Tai Fung, the restaurant where Taiwanese soup dumplings were invented. You can find yourself waiting in the queue here for two or three hours if you make the mistake of going for lunch; so for an authentic dumpling experience, ditch the midday waiting and enjoy soup dumplings for breakfast instead!

Osaka - gyoza

Although gyoza are enjoyed nationwide in Japan, as the country’s food capital it’s only right that you try a plate (or two, or three…) of these tasty dumplings while you’re in Osaka. Gyoza are a thin skinned dumplings with classic fillings of ground pork with nira (Japanese chive), garlic, ginger and cabbage. However, nowadays there are hundreds of variations of the original and today you’ll find gyoza stuffed with a variety of fillings, from chicken to sea urchin. I wanted to eat like the locals and went to eat my dumplings at a little izakaya but you could also go to a hole-in-the-wall eatery and order your dish along with a steaming bowl of ramen.

Some spots will stick to their own secret recipe for their dipping sauce, whilst at others allow you to mix up your own at the table from a selection of soy sauce, vinegar and chilli oil. The most common variety is yaki gyoza, where the expertly sealed dumplings are pan-fried on a hot skillet and then covered and steamed, creating an explosion of textures from the crispy base to the delicate yet slightly chewy skin. Sui gyoza are boiled and usually served in a light broth, whilst age gyoza are deep fried - so eat your way around Osaka and try as many varieties as you can!

Seoul - mandu

Mandu are Korea’s version of the gyoza, a meat filled dumpling that can be pan-fried, steamed or boiled, with the flavours and cooking method varying between regions and households. They’re generally bigger and thicker skinned than gyoza though. You can eat this dumpling as a standalone dish, a snack or as an accompaniment to a meal like noodles. The best part is you’ll find them stuffed with everything from kimchee to beef, tofu to chicken. As in many countries, mandu are more than just a dish, they’re part of the culture, and getting together with family to make dumplings together on holidays like New Year’s Day is still a much loved tradition.

Whether you pick some up from a street food vendor or try them in a local restaurant, you’ll not want to stop eating these dumplings! For classic flavours and local prices, head to Mapu Mandu and try the galbi and kimchee varieties, or just follow your nose and the queues of locals at a tiny street front restaurant and get creative with your order, trying the pan-fried, steamed and boiled varieties. There are many different kinds of dumplings and the key here is to eat a variety- and to eat many. Just wear loose fitting pants!

Bologna - tortellini

Whether you know Bologna as La Grassa (the fat one) or the food capital of Italy, there’s no doubt that this city knows how to make pasta! I'd go as far as to say you could probably find some of the best dumplings around at Le Sfogline, a Bolognese institution! But do you know your tortellini from your tortelloni? These two variations of stuffed pasta sound inconveniently similar to anyone not familiar with the difference, but they contain different fillings, and are each eaten in a different way. Both are made from velvety smooth, fresh egg pasta, but tortellini are the smaller of the two, stuffed with minced pork, a sprinkling of parmesan and a hint of nutmeg.

Tortelloni on the other hand are larger, and stuffed with spinach, a soft cheese like ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano. But the tradition doesn't end there; for an authentic experience, make sure you order your tortelllini in brodo (broth) and tortelloni in con burro e salvia (in brown butter and sage). Did you know these little dumplings are known as Venus’s belly button? 

This is because legend has it that they were inspired when an innkeeper peeked through the keyhole and saw the navel of the Renaissance icon Lucrezia Borgia who was staying at his tavern one night. If you are going to eat these dumplings, try buy them freshly made but uncooked to take home at Da Bruno e Franco, or head to Trattoria di Via Serra for authentic tortellini in brodo.

Budapest - szilvás gombóc

Szilvás gombóc are a traditional Hungarian dumpling, the kind of dish that locals will think of nostalgically as something their grandma used to make. These potato dumplings are rolled and stuffed with plums and cinnamon, or plum jam, and then boiled, before being coated in fried breadcrumbs and dusted with icing sugar and more cinnamon. Usually eaten as a dessert, they were traditionally only made when plums were in season, which is around September through to early autumn. So in Budapest, if you’re in the city during this time, you’ll be lucky to sample the best dumplings in all their glory!

You’ll find them on special in restaurants and cafes so if you spot them, don’t hesitate to stop and them. Although Hungarian dumplings are usually thought of as a sweet dessert, the humble potato dumpling is wonderfully diverse, and of course there are savoury varieties like the savoury classic of cottage cheese dumplings. For a taste of traditional szilvás gombóc any time of year, or to taste contemporary twists, head to Gombro’c to eat your dumplings. Here you’ll find delicious flavours like goats' cheese and spinach, bbq ribs and peanut butter and caramel!

 

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