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A love affair with dumplings

12-03-2010 16:58 BJT

A Chinese New Year without jiaozi? Don’t even consider it! We fought our way deep into the kitchens of the China World Hotel, and escaped with their top-secret recipe. Now you, too, can have a colorful dumpling feast to remember! My love for dumplings? Unrivaled.



No matter where, when, or how, I’m always thinking about jiaozi. Or, as I can’t help but call them, “my top tasty.” They’re such a perfect meal—so easy, so quick, so delicious. You don’t even need a menu to order, just recite a couple of favorite ingredients: baicai (cabbage), qincai (celery), jiucai (leek), zhurou (pork), niurou (beef), yangrou (mutton). Then just wait for your 1/2 kilo of sweet, succulent dough-wrapped meatballs. In one bite, you’re feasting on all the food groups combined. It’s amazing.

And even if you’re not a dumpling fiend, there is one time of year where it’s a crime not to dive into a plate: Chinese New Year. (As long as you’re in the North, that is. Traditions vary across the country.

However, I personally believe it’s a crime, wherever you are.

Here's how it all started.

Originally, the word jiaozi, 交子, didn’t mean dumplings. It was used to describe the darkest hour, 11 at night to one in the morning, when beer and baijiu were slushing in stomachs and eyes were bloodshot and blurred. How better to soak up all that booze than a big plate of dumplings? So they added the food radical to the character for the midnight hour, and ended up with 饺子, jiaozi.

Starting in the capital Chang’an, the current Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, in the north of China, in the Han Dynasty, two thousand years ago, it was thought that eating jiaozi would bring luck, wealth, and happiness. Maybe this was because they were shaped like ancient gold ingots, or maybe just because a meal that tasty was bound to bring luck and wealth!

Gradually, it became a ritual for any special occasion: weddings, births, and most of all, the cold nights of Spring Festival. As if you need any excuse to eat these puppies.

One danger, though, is a bad dumpling. Dense, flavorless, greasy, broken, or soggy—this is the least auspicious way to bring in the New Year. The World of Chinese wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

So we called in every favor we could, and stole our way into the hallowed kitchens of Beijing’s famous China World Hotel, where jiaozi-master Chef Hao Wei met us with a smile. He stood there quietly, his round face smiling, warm and so sincere, like sadness never existed in the world. I believe that only those who can honestly smile can make delicious food. It sounds strange, but it’s true.

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