Bon Appétit – Dumplings and your local Chinese restaurant

a wontonIf there’s one thing your local Chinese restaurants is full of, it’s secrets. Secrets are what keep it in business. No, I’m not talking about PF Chang’s or Ruby Foo’s, which likely only have sterile and boring secrets.

I’m talking about the ones where the wait staff are entirely Chinese (and all in the same family). The ones where things look generally unclean, but when you look closely, you can’t find anything that’s actually dirty. The ones that all seem to have the same menu and same prices but completely coincidentally (or is it???). It would take days really to go over all of their secrets, so let’s take a look at them one at a time. Today: dumplings.

What are dumplings? What are wontons? What’s the difference between gyoza and pot stickers? Where do babies come from? What’s a hypotenuse?

Wontons, wads of meat in a wrap made of flour, are a Chinese member of dumpling family. Your standard meat wad consists of ground pork, ginger, and onions, but you’ll find variations with shrimp.

Gyoza is the Japanese word for pot sticker. The Chinese translation is “Jiaozi.” These are similar to wontons, but the wrap is generally thicker and rounded whereas wonton skins are thinner and square.

Wontons and Jiaozi can be prepared by frying (gross), steaming, or boiling (winner!)

What’s the best way to enjoy wontons or jiaozi? Have one of your concubines prepare a sauce for you consisting of soy sauce, vinegar, and hot chili sauce. (Hot chili sauce is a the whacky-sounding literal translation of a ubiquitous Chinese hot sauce). Dip your dumplings in the sauce while they are still hot. Use chop sticks for added kitsch.

Where’s the best place to enjoy wontons or jiaozi? The real answer to this question is the Forbidden Palace, but if you’re in Beijing, you should really be ordering the Peking duck.

Just below the Forbidden Palace on the list is the dumpling house. These are Chinese restaurants known for their dumplings. The best way to order at one of these places is to just order a whole lot of dumplings. Sure, they have other food. Order as your heart desires. But load up on the dumplings first. Also, ask them if they have any “shao-long tung bao” (soup dumplings!) Don’t worry about pronouncing it improperly. They’ll only spit in your food if you pronounce it poorly and you’re Chinese.

Personally, I like the dumpling house but only if they have soup dumplings. If their speciality is just boiled or steamed dumplings, I’ll generally try it out, but I always end up concluding that I can make better dumplings myself.

Next time on Bon Appétit: How to make jiaozi. There’s the right way… and there’s the Hwang way. ’til then, Bon Appétit!

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