What Are Chinese Dumplings ?
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A common legend goes that dumplings were first invented in the era of the Three Kingdoms, around 225 AD. Zhuge Liang, a general and minister of Shu Han, dammed up a poison marsh on his southern campaign against the Nanman with dumplings instead of the heads that the Nanman used.
The jiaozi (餃子/饺子) is a common Chinese dumpling which generally consists of minced meat and finely chopped vegetables wrapped into a piece of dough skin. The skin can be either thin and elastic or thicker. Popular meat fillings include ground pork, ground beef, ground chicken, shrimp, and even fish. Popular mixtures include pork with Chinese cabbage, pork with garlic chives, pork and shrimp with vegetables, pork with spring onion, garlic chives with scrambled eggs. Filling mixtures vary depending on personal tastes and region.Jiaozi are usually boiled or steamed and continues to be a traditional dish eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve, the evening before Chinese New Year, and special family reunions. Extended family members may gather together to make dumplings, and it is also eaten for farewell to family members or friends. In Northern China, dumplings are commonly eaten with a dipping sauce made of vinegar and chili oil or paste, and occasionally with some soy sauce added in.
If dumplings are laid flatly on a pan, first steamed with a lid on and with a thin layer of water, then fried in oil after the water has been evaporated, they are called guotie (鍋貼/锅贴, sometimes called “potstickers”), as the Maillard reaction occurring on the bottom of the dumplings makes the skin crispy and brown. The same dumplings are called jiaozi if they are just steamed.
The wonton (雲呑/餛飩) is another kind of dumpling. It is typically boiled in a light broth or soup and made with a meatier filling. The skin wrapping for wontons is different—thinner and less elastic—than that used for jiaozi. Wontons are more popular in Southern China (Shanghai, Guangdong, Hong Kong etc.) whereas in Northern China, jiaozi are more popular. Jiaozi, wonton and potstickers are all wrapped differently.
Another type of Chinese dumpling is made with glutinous rice. Usually, the glutinous rice dumplings 粽子 zongzi are triangle or cone shaped, can be filled with red bean paste, Chinese dates or cured meat depending on region. Glutinous rice dumplings are traditionally eaten during the Duanwu Festival. Other types of dumplings would be soup dumplings, commonly referred to as “小籠包/小笼包“xiaolongbao.
Chinese cuisine includes sweet dumplings. Tangyuan are smaller dumplings made with glutinous rice flour and filled with sweet sesame, peanut, red bean paste. Tangyuan may also be served without a filling. Tangyuan are eaten on the 15th day of Chinese New Year, or the Lantern Festival.
See also: dim sum 點心 for descriptions of several other kinds of dumplings such as har kao, siew mai, pork bun and crystal dumplings.