Wontons, dumplings and potstickers are the irresistible delicacies popular across China and various other parts of Asia. Growing up in China, I enjoyed every bite of this luscious and filling bite-size meals.
Over the years, we have discovered that most countries across the globe have different forms of dumplings.
From Asia, America and to Europe, Africa and middle east there is a meal that comes in the form of a dumpling.
Of all the cultural delicacies that are still enjoyed to date are the dumplings, wontons and potstickers.
We may attribute this to the fact that they have a rich history that goes beyond the normal dinner table.
What Is A Dumpling?
A dumpling is loosely defined as a meal that has some form of dough that is often made using wheat flour to cover filings inside. Sometimes it may not have fillings which is a rare case scenario.
The dough flour can also be from potato flour. There are various methods employed in cooking the dumpling which includes: baking, frying, steaming and boiling.
The History of The Legend Dumpling
The history of dumpling dates back to over 1800 years ago in China. They were first made and introduced to the people by a healer named Zhang. He made the dough wrappers and used lamb, chili and herbs as fillings. He then served the dumplings in a flavorful broth.
These light meals, he gave the sick who were visiting him at the time. His sick people enjoyed the meal and even healed quicker. It was therefore used as a medicinal meal. Today, the snacks are used during celebrations.
It’s more loved during the new year. You can’t celebrate the new year without making dumplings. They are a representation of happiness in the family.
The Chinese dumplings are small and they assume the shape of the silver or gold ingots. That sends a good luck message to the individual or people being given the dumplings. The filings can be anything. In fact, they differ in different regions of the country.
They mostly have pork in the filling that is accompanied by different sauces.
Some regions use beef as the fillings together with yellow chives.
In Beijing, you will find dumplings filled with pork mince and leeks.
Sometimes they will have seafood like Spanish mackerels, prawns, water chestnut and bamboo shoots. We also use the crab roe and Muslims in the country prefer the lamb fillings while vegans prefer carrots and cabbages.
As you will notice, you only need to use your creativity for the fillings. While we mostly use seafood, meat and chicken, the veggies are equally vital in the process.
The common veggies used are Chinese daikon, stem lettuce, fennel leaves, chives, cabbage, cucumber, celery and spinach among others.
Vegetarians use eggs in the dumplings. They are scrambled and cut to small pieces.
You may further use the dried shrimps or the spicy dried shrimps. This gives you the fish flavors.
Some use the shiitake mushroom for its umami flavors.
Types of Dumplings
When talking about the types of dumplings across the globe, you will have hundreds of dumplings. In China, we categorize them in 3 different kinds as you will see below.
- Boiled dumplings
This is your ideal alternative to the noodles and rice. In fact, it’s a comfort food that is eaten throughout the week. If you know how to make them, they come out with a burst of flavors making it delicious. Moreover, they are moist and juicy.
Most of those with health concerns prefer them as they reduce the need for a lot of oil in the meal. In fact, it features a balance of flavors because it blends both the veggies and meat. I like the fact that they aren’t greasy.
Just like turkey is a staple in the Americans Thanksgiving Day, so is the boiled dumplings on new years for us.
Examples of boiled dumplings
Shui Jiao which is a staple in the north. It has varying flavors and is similar to the wontons
This is one of the most popular types that assumes the crescent-shaped dumplings. Its edges are pleated and its filings contain meat, veggies, shrimps and winter melon. You can pan fry them if you wish but most people prefer the boiled ones.
- Tang Yuan
These ones are the sweet dumpling balls that usually have the red bean peanut and black sesame.
You can try them with different fillings wherever you are in the world. Some people even use mango, pineapple fillings and chocolate.
Qing Tuan: this one is filled with greens thus it appears green. You can make them sweet or savory.
- Steamed dumplings
These Chinese style dumplings are easier to make than the boiled ones. This may be because the dough here is easy to roll.
In fact, it’s a light form of dumpling that is also healthy. Most people prefer them for breakfast but you may eat them through the day.
Shao Mai: this is quite popular across the globe. It’s the Hong Kong style of dumpling that has white skin.
What makes it even more appealing is that its fillings vary with the changes in seasons.
Xiaolongbao: the dumplings appear cubed shaped. They are further filled with pork and broth. This broth has the tendency to spill everywhere as you bite into it so be careful when eating it.
- Har Gow
They are translucent and when well-cooked you expect to see the fillings inside. Its fillings are mostly shrimps. The dumpling is chewy but not tough to chew.
- Fried dumplings
These ones are heavier than the rest. They work well as comfort foods and appetizers too.
Jiu Cai Bao: these dumplings feature the rounded dumpling that is pan-fried to give them a crusty texture. It has the peppery chives for the burst of hotness.
Sheng Jian Bao: you have the steamed version of this but also the fried one is delicious. This gives you the leeway to decide which one works for you.
The fried one has a crispy texture and always works best as a breakfast or snack meal. Its dough is thicker than most other ones.
What Is A Wonton?
Wonton is another type of Chinese dumpling that is mostly made using wheat flour dough. Other ingredients for the dough include the eggs, salt and water. You make it when you spread the square wrapper on your palm before you begin the filling process.
The wrapper, in this case, is thin and it tastes soft and smooth. The filling is fresh and the soup is clearly tasty.
Wonton is a traditional meal in northern China that was initially referred to as the meat bun.
The History of Wontons
The history of this delicious meal has a few stories related to the dumplings. The people of northern China referred to it as a sealed meat bun that has no holes. Another name they gave to it was huidun.
A story states that during the Han dynasty, there were two leaders namely Hun and dun. They often invaded the northern border and made the natives live in terror. For this reason, the people of the north hated the two leaders.
They opted to make the dough with meat fillings. The dumplings were called Hun and Dun. They only hoped that in cooking and eating the dumplings they will at least attain peace.
During the Tang dynasty, both dumplings and the wontons were enjoyed. It wasn’t easy to tell the difference between them except for the fact that the wonton was square and dumplings round.
The doctor’s story
Another story of the wonton is where there was a doctor who lived in the cold mountainside.
He would make wontons and survive on them because it was the only meal that he could make with the locally available resources.
The man then went ahead to include some medicinal herbs in the wonton soup. This would cure his villagers of any illness.
- Fried wontons
These ones act as appetizers for your meal. Most people prefer them for dinners or any other sporting and engaging activities.
The fried wontons are golden brown in color yet crispy on the outside. On the inside, it comes with various fillings
You may use the Cantonese style of shrimp and pork fillings.
Others prefer the chopped veggies and meat while others go for the ones with very little meat pieces.
You don’t have to use the above-stated fillings for the fried versions rather you may use any fillings including peppery chives and meat.
These wontons vary from the wrapping styles to the fillings. You may also find the different wontons having different shapes.
When you have the wontons ready you want to know the kind of sauce that will fit your wontons.
The sauces here vary, you may use anything from the sweet sauce to sweet and sour one and even the very spicy type. It’s all a matter of personal preference.
- Steamed wontons
To be honest, wontons are quite delicious and it has a balance of both the spices, meat and veggies as well as the wrap. The other method of enhancing its flavors is using a dipping sauce.
You may use the different fillings which include carrots, cabbage, green onion, a ginger and garlic paste, as well as the pepper.
To make the wrap you only need some wheat flour, corn flour, salt and liquid butter. Understand that you may use any kind of filling you choose.
The filling determines the name of your wonton. For example, if you are using chicken, your wonton is called chicken wonton and so on and forth. Since this method requires a minimal usage of oil, it’s the best choice to go for as its healthier yet always delicious.
- Boiled wontons
Another one of the common wontons are the boiled types. Not only is it easy to cook after the preparation process but its also healthy.
You can enhance the flavors adding in some soy sauce, chili oil and various alternative ingredients.
The best thing about the wontons is that even if you bought the wrappers in the stores if you decide to freeze a few, you won’t have altered pieces with a bland taste.
Difference Between Wontons and Dumplings
- The wrapper
Although this is not the best way to describe the difference because it sometimes confuses, the wonton wrapper is thinner than that of a dumpling.
The dumpling mostly assumes a round shape while the wonton will take on a triangular shape, rectangle and even square.
To make the wrapping dough for the dumpling you may use either wheat flour or potato flour but for wonton, you only use wheat flour.
- Wonton is just one of the many dumplings available in the market.
- Wontons must have fillings while there are dumplings that you may eat without fillings.
- Another difference is in the fillings. Since the wonton mostly only uses shrimps and pork pieces the seasoning used can be anything from onions to garlic to soy sauce and to sesame oil. For the dumpling you can use almost any kind of fillings you choose.
- The meal is either sweet and savory or spicy and hot for the dumpling.
- Dumplings like the wontons are sometimes eaten by themselves. Especially when it’s fried. The wontons, however, are often eaten in the soup while you may use grave and other dipping sauces for the dumpling.
This is another form of dumpling that is commonly found in all parts of China. It literary means sticking on the wok. It’s basically a thick type of dumpling that has a soft wrapper. This wrapper gets crispy when cooked.
Often times the vegetarian version has the cabbage and carrots for fillings while the other one has ground pork for the meat as filling.
It’s often steam-fried to preserve its juices. However, you may also boil them if you wish.
The History of Potstickers
Most people know the potstickers as the dumpling that is pan-fried but have you ever wondered why it has that name? History indicates that these dumplings came into existence around the same time as the regular dumplings.
During the song dynasty, these dumplings were like the regular dumplings that were often boiled. They were easy and go to meals in China and its surrounding. One time a chef was boiling the dumplings and forgot about them completely.
As you would expect, the water boiled away and the dumplings stuck on the pan. He didn’t know what to do, therefore decided to carefully scrap the dumplings from the pan/wok and serve them anyway.
To his delight, his guest loved the dumplings. They enjoyed the blend of a richly flavored filling, tender skin with the crusty bottom side. And this saw the birth of the potsticker dumpling.
Its name is from the Mandarin language. It was supposed to be the wok sticker but since wok is a Chinese pot the English language could only change it to potsticker.
How Potstickers are Cooked Today
Although there are people who cook it the same way it used to in the olden days, there’s an easier way to do it today that enhances the texture and flavors.
The method is known as fry steam fry
Here you begin by lightly browning the dumpling on the pan with some oil then you add water to the same pan and let it steam slowly.
This will cook your fillings on the inside and once the filling is cooked, you can then uncover the pan to let the water evaporate.
This further allows the dumplings to cook even more thus giving them a crispy outer texture. They are thicker than most other dumplings.
Its outer texture is crisp while the inner side is soft and its fillings retain the juices.
They are popular across the globe and are even referred to as the getaway dumpling.
The Potsticker Fillings
You can use anything for your potstickers just as we have seen with the previous two dumplings.
You may use anything from chicken to pork to meat and even to shrimp. The best way to go about the filling is to ensure it’s in its ground form. Alternatively, you may also decide to caramelize your veggies and use them in place of the meat products.
- The doughs
If you may have noticed, most of the doughs for the dumplings use hot water because it makes it elastic and even eases the process of holding their shapes. However, if you are in a hurry and would love to make the potstickers quick then you may use either wonton or gyoza wrapper.
Alternatively, buy yourself the dumpling dough or skin to make the suitable potsticker dough.
Potstickers Vs Dumplings
- The cooking processes
Unlike most other dumplings where you use one method of cooking, potstickers can use the steam-fry method. This gives it the perfect crusty exterior.
- Like the wonton above, a potsticker is a type of dumpling but there are many other forms of dumplings aside from the potsticker.
- Understand that both the potstickers and dumplings are doughs on the outside then vegetable or meat filling on the inside.
Difference Between Gyoza And Potstickers
Gyoza is a Japanese style of jiaozi. In fact, the Japanese borrowed the cooking technique from the Chinese when they were visiting the northern side of China. On return to Japan, they went ahead and recreated their version of the same.
It has some subtle difference from potstickers as you will see below.
- Potstickers are from China while the gyoza is from Japan.
- The wrapper used for gyoza is delicate thin and smaller than the one we use for our dumplings.
- The filling in the gyoza is made finer than the one used in potstickers. You will understand why, it’s because the wrapper is light and delicate so to avoid tearing you need to make its fillings finer.
- Gyoza is generally smaller than the potsticker.
- They are prepared in the same manner with the potstickers style of fry steam fry. However, in this case, the gyoza wrapper crisps up more and even quicker.
- The Japanese gyoza fillings lean towards the garlic flavor than the potstickers.
- Nevertheless, potstickers may vary in flavors and tastes depending on the part of the country you are eating it from.
Gyoza Wrappers Vs Wonton Wrappers
- Gyoza wrappers feature the dough wrapper you use when making the gyoza dumpling. They come in the round shape and are so thin. In fact, they are thinner than wonton wrappers. To make them, you only need wheat flour and salt.
- Although you don’t have to go through the hustle of making them afresh, you can buy them in the store. They come to you in frozen state.
- If you can make and find your gyoza wrapper you may substitute them with wonton wrappers.
- They are also considered thin but not as much as the gyoza one.
- They come in square form and you only need water salt and wheat flour the make the basic wonton wrappers.
- They act as a substitute to other dumplings wrappers but if you will use them you should cut them in to circle.
Difference Between Dim Sum and Dumplings
There is a slight difference between the two although some dim sums are classified as dumplings. The word dumplings cover all the snacks that have wheat dough outer covering with fillings inside. It can be fish, meat, chicken and even veggies dumplings.
Dim sum is another one of the common names in Chinese cuisine. It features a transparent or semi-transparent outer covering to different fillings on the inside. The wrappers are made using different kinds of flours not only wheat.
In this case, the fillings are finely diced into small and finer pieces. That makes even your regular spring rolls a dim sum. It’s mostly preferred for tea.
What to know when buying your dumpling wrapper
- They are in major grocery stores
You will find the wrappers in almost every Asian grocery store. Just remember to pick them last so that it doesn’t begin defrosting while you are still shopping.
- Use them immediately
If you don’t want to use the wrappers immediately then you should store them in the frozen state until you are ready. If you can use the whole pack you just opened once the better.
- Don’t confuse the wonton wrappers for the dumpling wrapper
The dumpling one is thin and a round wrapper that you will easily pleat but the wonton one which you won’t pleat easily. Wonton wrapper further comes in square form. They may act as a substitute.
- Read the label
You want to know what the wrapper is made of and if that a will make for your perfect dumplings. You may also check their expiry date.