Steamed Dumplings - ©

Dumpling Dreams: Much More Than Just Soup Toppers!

I have learned – to my amazement – that a significant number of folks out there still don’t know dumplings are not just something Grandma steamed atop her stew or floated in her soup. A whole wonderful world awaits!

Chaoshou Dumplings - © topchinatravel.comClassic Wontons (Chaoshou): An easy-to-make wrapped dumpling
dumpling that can be filled with pretty much anything, and
goes with just about any meal, Asian or not…

Dumplings can be described as dough pockets stuffed with something savoury. That’s a gross over-simplification, and a misleading one as well. Some are just dough, but infused with extra ingredients and flavours. Others are the thinnest film of pastry required to hold together trademark fillings…

Literally a world

Dumplings are members of that exclusive food club the celebrates dishes that have conquered the world. More precisely, food forms that show up in almost every recognized culinary tradition. And it’s more than just a shame if you haven’t explored the dumpling universe.

I have made extensive forays into dumpling territory over my many years as both a cook and a diner. And I can tell you, there’s something there for every taste. You just have to find it!

Iceberg tips…

I’m proud to present my top picks among the global dumpling throng. Just the tips of a whole sea full of culinary icebergs. They’re a choice few I hold dear, and have learned to make to suit my personal taste…

Pot Stickers

Undoubtedly the best-known variety of Asian dumpling. These crescent-shaped Chinese pillows can be filled with just about anything. You can steam or pan fry them, But I’ve found that steaming them part way and finishing them in a medium hot pan with just a slight film of peanut or sesame oil brings out the flavours best and achieves the best golden finish. Their direct counterpart in Japan is the goyoza.


Remember that cute little animated movie, Bao a few years back? The titular character was one of these. They’re traditionally stuffed with a spicy pork filling and a little knob of aspic, which melts into the pork when the dumplings are steamed. A classic side for Asian soups, and a stand-alone for light meals and snacks.

Spicy Wonton

A free-form thinnish pastry sheet filled with a savoury mix of ground pork, scallions, soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar. The sauce is the spicy part: a blend of chili oil, sesame paste, vinegar and soy sauce. It’s complex flavour like no other I’ve tried. You can control the heat making it yourself!

Plain Wonton

The same basic construction as the Spicy version, but without soy sauce in the Pork filling. And not served with the spicy sauce. Shrimp is also a fave stuffing for these. Plop them in the soup, or steam them as a side. The literally go with any meal, Asian or otherwise!


The Polish staple lends itself to many applications: standing in for potatoes, gracing soups or stews, and on their own as a main. Traditional side dish Pierogi fillings include various potato concoctions and cheese. Main dish fillings may feature beef, pork, chicken, lamb or veal. Steam them or just plop them into the soup to cook.


Yes, these iconic Italian pasta pillows are members of the dumpling family. They’re made from two sheets of pasta crimped together around the edges, over a filling of meat, ricotta cheese, spinach – or whatever you want. Traditionally served in a bowl with Marinara Sauce. I love mine with a Bolognaise (especially of they’re not stuffed with meat).


The great grandmother of all Potato Dumplings. They’re simply cooked potatoes with added potato starch and eggs, rolled into a ball and steamed. You can boil them, but they tend to fall apart. Some variants are stuffed with a bread or crouton filling. The classic German stand-in for boiled or roasted potatoes.


Tiny little dumpling ‘buttons’, resembling scrambled eggs. The classic recipe calls for only flour, eggs and salt. Form them by hand or rolling little pinches of the dough off the inside of a spoon. Cook them in rapidly boiling water as you would any other egg pasta. A direct replacement for mashed potatoes. In Italy, they make Gnocci; the same kind of mini-pasta, but a little larger, and rolled off the back of a fork.

English Suet Dumplings

Don’t balk at the mention of suet. You can use cold butter diced into small cubes or run thorough a grater. Just mix together flour, butter, salt and cold water until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Then form into golfball-sized blobs. Then simply drop them into simmering soup or stew. Use in place of potatoes or any as a dependable starchy side. for any main. You can add fresh herbs and/or spices to jazz them up, if you like.


On the fringes, but still a dumpling, the Falafel is an ancient Middle Eastern staple. It’s a simple blend of ground Chick Peas (Garbanzos), fresh herbs and spices. Formed into balls, they can be fried or baked. After that, you can use them like any other dumpling in soups or stews. They’re also found in trademark wraps and stuffed pitas. Jewish culture prizes a similar creation made from dried, ground unleavened bread: The iconic Matzo ball…

My take

These carefully curated selections are a great starting point to explore the big, wide world of dump-lings. but do look further afield, wherever whim beckons you. And don’t be afraid to try any of these classic forms with unconventional fillings and sauces!

~ Maggie J.