Dumplings are an ancient food and many regions around the world have them in some form or another as part of their national cuisine. There are also numerous legends surrounding the origin of the delicious dough balls.
The beauty Xishi
According to a Chinese tale, eating dumplings started in remembrance of Fairy Jiao. In the Liang Dynasty (A.D. 502-557), the emperor believed in Buddhism, so he forbade his people from eating meat. The heavenly gods were unhappy as the smell of meat formed part of their diet. So the gods sent a drought that lasted for three years.
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The Cypress Tree Fairy named Xishi could not bear to see the people suffering, so she turned herself into a girl named Jiao. She taught people to wrap meat into a dough and offer the dumplings to the gods. The gods took mercy on them and soon sent rain. To commemorate Fairy Jiao and her good deeds, people named the food Jiaozi (a kind of Chinese dumpling). Since then, the Chinese people have eaten dumplings on the fairy’s birthday, the Winter Solstice.
To make a dumpling fit for discerning guests at parties, leave the pieces chunky so you get bursts of crab when you bite into the dumplings. Petrossian Red King Crab legs are superb. They may be enjoyed on their own or with champagne (optional), or added to omelets. They can also be made into crab cakes, added to fish soups, or served as a garnish with avocado toast.
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 5 oz Red King Crab Leg meat chopped
- 1/2 tbsp five-spice powder
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 tbsp soy sauce (don’t use dark soy sauce)
- 1 tbsp sesame oil (preferably Asian dark sesame oil)
- 2 stalks scallions finely diced, reserve the greenest tip part
- 1 tsp ginger finely diced
- 1 tsp Shaoxing cooking wine (optional)
- 30 pieces dumpling wrappers
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl (except for the dumpling wrappers and the reserved green scallions).
- Add 1-2 tbsp cold water, mix with a fork until the water is blended into the filling mixture. Repeat. It’s called da-shui (beat, water), a technique common in making various Chinese dishes such as dumplings and wontons.
- Have a bowl of cold water ready. Place a small amount of filling in the middle of a dumpling wrapper. Dip a finger into the water, and wet the edges of the wrapper.
- Start folding. Close the middle of the wrapper.
- Pleat once to the right, then pleat twice.
- Do the same on the left side.
- Cook dumplings in a lightly oiled pan on medium to high heat for 2 minutes.
- Add a little water, lower the heat, cover, and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes. Cooking time depends on how big the dumplings are. Store-bought wrappers vary in size. You can always cut open one to see if the filling is cooked.
- Diagonally slice the reserved green scallions; sprinkle on the pleated cooked dumplings.
- Drizzle with chili oil, if desired. You can also dip in Chinese dark vinegar. Try a mixture of vinegar and soy sauce too — simply divine!
To end off, here is another classic Chinese dumpling tale. During the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. — A.D. 220), the northern nomadic Xiongnu tribes were often attacked along the frontier. The wars were never-ending. The legend goes that there were two tribal chiefs. People despised them, so they wrapped meat stuffing into the dough. They named the food after the two chiefs’ names and called them wontons. They then boiled and ate wontons, hoping to stop the wars and live in peace. Because the wontons were initially made and eaten on the Winter Solstice, eating wontons is a Winter Solstice custom.