While you might think that foods like dumplings are only found in Asian cuisine, they’re found all over the world!
You can find dumplings in African, European, and even Middle East dishes, and they’re all delicious.
However, when it comes to foods like dumplings, wontons, and potstickers, there can often be a lot of confusion.
For someone who doesn’t know a lot about these foods or their history, they can blur into one. Because of this, there’s often a lot of confusion around dumplings, wontons, and potstickers.
Since that feels like a shame, it seems like the right time to shed some light on the subject.
Here, we’ll be going through everything you need to know about these three delicacies. From what they actually are, to their history, fillings, and even their wrappers.
So, if you’re interested in finding out more about these unique and delicious foods, stick around!
Understanding Dumplings, Wontons, And Potstickers
What They Are
“Dumpling” is a loose term used to describe a meal that has a dough of some kind, often made with wheat flour, that’s used to cover a filling.
However, in rare cases, a dumpling will not have a filling. Potato flour can also be used instead of wheat flour.
When it comes to cooking, there are a number of ways a dumpling can be prepared. They can be steamed, boiled, baked, or even fried, depending on the recipe.
Dumplings are thought to date back almost 2,000 years in China. They were created by a healer by the name of Zhang, and given to the people.
The dough wrappers were made, then filled with lamb, herbs, and chili, and served in a delicious broth.
These dumpling meals, which were very light, were given to the sick who visited him. According to the stories, those who ate his dumplings healed faster than anticipated after enjoying these meals.
This led to dumplings being treated like medicine, though now they are popular snacks and popular at celebrations.
The best time for dumplings is the New Year, and making them is a tradition in many families.
Dumplings are seen as symbolizing happiness within a family, which might explain why they’re so popular (other than the fact that they’re delicious).
Depending on where you are, dumplings can have a different shape as well as different fillings. The majority of dumplings in China are filled with pork, along with an accompanying sauce.
However, some are filled with beef and chives to make a delicious meal. In places like Beijing, dumplings are likely to be filled with pork mince and leeks.
Dumplings can also have seafood and vegan fillings. In some places, prawns and mackerel are a popular filling, along with bamboo shoots and water chestnuts.
Those who do not eat seafood and work can treat themselves to lamb or beef fillings, and non-meat eaters can enjoy a filling of cabbage and carrots.
While the majority of dumplings will use beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or a form of seafood as their primary filling, there are no rules to follow.
A dumpling filling can be whatever you want it to be, which allows for a lot of freedom in the making process.
Vegetables are an important part of the overall meal, and popular vegetable choices include things like spinach, cucumber, Chinese daikon, and cabbage, among other things.
Eggs are also used in dumplings, especially for vegetarians. This egg first gets scrambled, then cut into small pieces.
To top things off in different dumplings, shiitake mushrooms or dried shrimps might be used to add a little extra flavor, too.
There are three primary types of dumplings. These are boiled dumplings, steamed dumplings, and fried dumplings. Let’s take a look at these three dumplings below:
- Boiled Dumplings – boiled dumplings are a popular alternative to rice or noodles for many dishes, and are seen as a comfort food. They are juicy and moist, and extremely flavorful when made correctly. Boiled dumplings are frequently chosen by those who wish to reduce their oil intake, and also experience a great balance of flavors from the fillings. These non-greasy dumplings have a great combination of meat and vegetables, and are generally seen as a staple in China.
- Jiaozi – these dumplings are crescent-shaped and have a similar flavor to wontons. Most commonly filled with meat, shrimp, vegetables, and winter melon
- Tang Yuan – sweet dumpling balls, typically with black sesame and red bean peanuts. Fillings can also include chocolate, mango, or pineapple
- Qing Tuan – dumpling balls that can be sweet or savory with a variety of fillings
- Steamed Dumplings – steamed dumplings are popular as a breakfast food, but can be eaten throughout the day. They have a dough that’s easy to roll out, and the cooking process is very easy and straightforward.
- Shao Mai – Hong Kong style dumplings popular around the world. They are pale, and have fillings that change with the seasons.
- Xiaolongbao – cube-shaped dumplings filled with pork and broth that spills out when eating it.
- Har Gow – chewy, translucent dumplings usually filled with shrimp.
- Fried Dumplings – fried dumplings are fried in oil, making them unhealthier than the rest. They are typically a heavier meal, but can be eaten as appetizers, as well.
- Jiu Cai Bao – pan-fried rounded dumplings with a crispy texture. They often have chili for some added heat.
- Sheng Jian Bao – can be steamed, but the fried version adds some extra crispiness. Uses dough that is thicker than usual, and is great for a breakfast meal.
What They Are
Wontons are a specific type of Chinese dumpling. These are typically made using wheat flour, eggs, water, and salt.
For these, the square wrappers are spread across the palm of your hand before being filled with your filling of choice.
The rappers of these are super thin, and have a smooth and soft texture. In northern China, wontons are traditional meals, and often referred to as “meat buns”.
Wontons are thought to date back to the Han Dynasty. At this time, there were two leaders – Han and Dun. These leaders frequently invaded the other’s lands, causing the local population to live in terror.
This resulted in both sides hating their leaders, and they started making meat-filled dough in order to create peace between them.
This food is called a “sealed meat bun with no holes”, but also the name huidan, because of its origin story. In the Tang Dynasty, after the creation of wontons and dumplings, both were widely enjoyed by the people.
The many similarities between wontons and dumplings led to confusion, though wontons soon became recognized for being square, while dumplings are rounded.
Similarly to dumplings, wontons also have a doctor, or healer story connected to them. According to the stories, a doctor once lived high in the cold mountains.
The only food he could make were wontons, due to the limited resources available to him.
The doctor’s wonton recipes soon began to include medicinal herbs in the soup, which could cure villagers of any illnesses they encountered.
Like dumplings, there are also different types of wontons. These can be fried, steamed, or boiled, and there can be many fillings.
Let’s take a look at some popular types of wontons below:
- Fried Wontons – usually the appetizer or snack, fried wontons can have lots of different fillings like Cantonese style pork or shrimp. Many of these wontons will have fillings made up of cut vegetables, though what you get or make is down to preference and availability. These wontons can be wrapped in different styles, and have many shapes. They also usually come with a delicious sauce to suit the fillings, which can be spicy, sweet, or sour.
- Steamed Wontons – steamed wontons often include ingredients such as pepper, garlic, ginger, cabbage, carrots, green onion, and your choice of meat. The wraps are made from simple ingredients such as wheat flour, liquid butter, salt, and corn flour. After cooking, these steamed wontons are often dipped in a deliciously flavorful sauce.
- Boiled Wontons – boiled wontons are delicious and flavorful, but also healthy. It’s common to add a number of ingredients to enhance the flavor, too. These ingredients can be things like chili oil or soy sauce, but it can vary depending on personal preference.
What They Are
Potstickers are another type of dumpling that is popular throughout China.
Translating to “sticking to the wok”, potstickers are a type of thick dumpling with a soft wrapper, which gets crispy when it is cooked.
These types of dumplings often have carrots and cabbage in them for those who are vegetarian, and ground pork for the meat-eaters.
While potstickers are usually steam-fried to make sure it stays moist and gets crispy, they can also be boiled.
According to the history books, it’s thought that these potstickers and regular dumplings came into existence at around the same time.
Potstickers were like regular dumplings during the Song Dynasty, and they were typically boiled. This made it easy to cook, and they were popular meals for those in China and the surrounding area.
These are thought to have been discovered when a chef forgot he was cooking dumplings.
Since he forgot, the water evaporated over time, and the dumplings eventually got stuck to the bottom of the pan.
As he did not know what to do about it, he very carefully scraped the dumplings off the pan, and decided to serve them anyway.
Much to his surprise, his guests loved these new dumplings. They described their love for the soft skin, crispy underside, and filling full of rich flavors.
Since then, these dumplings have been known as potsticker dumplings, and have been very popular.
While the name for these dumplings translates from Mandarin to “wok” stickers, it is now widely known to English-speaking people as “pot” stickers.
The Cooking Method
Potstickers can still be cooked the same way mentioned in the story, but there are also other ways to make this delicious meal.
The best way to enhance all the amazing flavors and textures is through the cooking method known as fry steam fry. Let’s take a look at how this is done below.
The dumpling is first lightly browned in a wok or frying pan. This helps it get the nice crispy texture that we have all grown to love.
Once it has been fried with a little oil, these dumplings are allowed to slowly steam in the same pan. The steaming allows the fillings to gradually be cooked without losing flavor or moisture.
When the filling of the potstickers are cooked, the lid is removed, and the water is left to evaporate on its own.
As this happens, the outer layer of the dumpling is allowed to cook more and eventually crisp up.
Since potstickers are a lot thicker than regular dumplings, the inside will stay nice and soft while the wrapping is able to become crispy.
This helps the inside of the dumpling stay juicy and flavorsome, while getting a great texture on the outside of the meal.
Because of the immense popularity of these dumplings, they are often referred to as the gateway dumpling.
They’re great for anyone who isn’t used to dumplings but would like to start with one that they will definitely enjoy.
Once you like the potsticker dumpling, the gateway to other dumplings is opened, and you can never go back.
Like with regular dumplings and wontons, there are no limits for what you can use as a filling. Chicken, pork, lamb, beef, and even seafood are all popular options if you eat meat.
For those who don’t you can use tofu, or simple vegetables inside your potstickers. This gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to making these foods yourself, and you really can’t go wrong with them.
With that being said, using ground meat is always the best option for these foods. Using ground meat ensures that it will be properly cooked, and it’s also easier to season.
As a result, you will always get dumplings or potstickers that are flavorful and properly cooked.
You can also use cooked vegetables as the fillings to make sure they are properly cooked.
Caramelized vegetables are a popular choice, as this also adds some extra flavor to the whole dish.
When it comes to the dough, the use of hot water is an essential step. The heat from the water allows the dough to be more elastic.
This in turn makes it easier to roll and shape the dough when you use it. Since we want our dumplings to hold their shape, hot water is always preferable, but it may not always be possible.
If you are in a rush to make your potstickers, you can easily use gyoza or wonton wrappers.
If you can’t do that, you can also stop by your local store and buy pre-made dumpling dough if they have it. While this might not be the tastiest dough, it will get the job done if you want to make a meal on short notice.
As long as you aren’t using a dough that is completely unsuitable for the cooking process, most things will work just fine.
If you aren’t sure about it, make sure to read up on it first.
Comparing Wontons, Dumplings, And Potstickers
Potstickers Vs. Dumplings
Potstickers are typically cooked using the steam-fry method, which allows them to have their delicious crispy exterior.
On the other hand, dumplings are typically only boiled, though they can be steamed or fried, too.
Both potstickers and dumplings are dough on the outside, and contain a filling on the inside. Their doughnuts are usually made from wheat flour, but might be different, too.
In terms of fillings, both potstickers and dumplings can have a variety of fillings. These can vary from beef, pork, chicken, or lamb mince, and vegetables or tofu.
Depending on your preferences or requirements, the fillings can be anything you like.
Potstickers have a crispy exterior, while the typical steamed or boiled dumpling will not.
The only dumpling that will have a crispy exterior are the fried ones, which are a much heavier meal and less commonly eaten.
Dumplings Vs. Wontons
The big difference between wontons and dumplings lies in the wrapper. In wontons, the wrappers are much thinner.
The wonton wrappers also typically end up being a triangular or rectangular shape, while dumplings are much more round.
Dumpling wrappers can be made from using wheat flour or potato flour, but for wontons, only wheat flour is used. Not only that, but a big difference between wontons and dumplings is also the filling.
While there are no rules for the fillings, you can get dumplings without fillings, as rare as that is. You do not get wontons without a filling.
It’s more normal for the fillings of a wonton to have pork or shrimp. However, for dumplings, you can have any kind of filling that you like.
Gyoza Vs. Potstickers
Gyoza is a type of Japanese jiaozi. They are similar to potstickers, but have a few subtle differences.
This type of food was invented after Japan visited the north side of China, where they were given a type of dumpling using the potsticker cooking technique.
When the Japanese returned to their home country, they created their own version of potstickers, using new ingredients and techniques.
There are some minor, yet important, differences between the potstickers from China, and the gyoza from Japan. Let’s take a look at these differences below:
- Origin – as we previously mentioned, gyoza are from Japan whereas potstickers originate from China
- Wrappers – the wrappers used for the gyoza are much thinner and more delicate compared to those needed for the potstickers.
- Fillings – the fillings of the gyoza are ground and chopped finer compared to the fillings for potstickers. This is because of the very thin and delicate wrappers needed for gyoza. If denser fillings were used, you would run the risk of the wrapper tearing.
- Size – the gyoza are typically smaller than potstickers
- Crispiness – the gyoza gets a lot more crispy, despite using the same fry steam fry cooking method. This is primarily due to how thin the gyoza wrappers are.
- Flavor – gyoza typically have strong garlic flavors compared to the potstickers
- Flavor variation – it’s important to note that the flavors of potstickers can vary greatly depending on where you are eating them. Potstickers from the north and south of China will taste very different, as will potstickers from the east and west.
Gyoza Wrappers And Wonton Wrappers
It is also important to understand the differences between the wrappers needed for gyoza and wontons. Let’s take a look at these differences down below:
- Gyoza wrappers are made from a dough that is a lot thinner than those needed for wontons. The wonton wrapper isn’t thick, but it is thinner than dumpling wrappers.
- Gyoza wrappers are made with only a few simple ingredients, which includes wheat flour and salt
- You can usually buy both wonton and gyoza wrappers frozen in stores, depending on where you live
- If you cannot find or are unable to make wonton or gyoza wrappers, you should be able to use either wrapper type for the recipe you are trying to make. While they aren’t exactly the same, they are similar enough to not cause too many issues in the cooking process.
Wonton wrappers are similar to gyoza wrappers, but have a few minor differences. While they are thin compared to the wrappers required for dumplings, they are not as thin as gyoza wrappers.
However, they can be used to make gyoza if you have nothing else available to use.
The wrappers can also be used to make other dumplings. However, if you do this, you should be sure to cut the square wrapper into a circle to make it a more authentic dumpling.
Remember – dumplings are round!
Dim Sum Vs. Dumplings
Although some dim sum are actually classed as dumplings, there are some differences between dumplings and dim sum.
When we are talking about dumplings, we’re typically talking about a variety of different snacks or food items that are covered in wheat dough and hold the filling inside.
For these, the fillings can be vegetables, meat, fish, or chicken.
For dim sum, while this is another super popular part of Chinese cuisine, the wrapping is either semi-transparent or transparent.
The fillings are on the inside, like they are for dumplings, but the wrappers can be made from a number of different flours.
Unlike dumplings, dim sum is not restricted to one type of flour for the wrappers, which means that they can be made for people with intolerances.
The fillings of dim sum are finely chopped up too, while the filling for dumplings can be more coarse. Because of this, you can consider regular spring rolls as a version of dim sum!
About Dumpling Wrappers
If you are going to go out and make dumplings, wontons, or potstickers, there are some important things you need to know about wrappers. Let’s take a look at these important points below:
- You might be able to find some in grocery stores – this will depend on where you are in the world, as some places do not cater to different cuisines. You might be able to find dumpling or wonton wrappers in Asian supermarkets, but this is not a given. If you are able to find some, be sure to get them last so that they do not start to defrost while you’re walking around the store.
- They should be used immediately – try to use the wrappers as soon as you get home. If you only got them on your weekly shop, be sure to place them in the freezer until you want to use them. Ideally, you should also try to use the whole pack, but as long as you are able to freeze them while not in use, you should be fine.
- Read what you’re buying – avoid getting confused between dumpling and wonton wrappers, because they are very different. It’s fine to use one or the other if you don’t have options, but try to stick with the correct ones for your meals
- Check the label – make sure to check the expiry date and all the ingredients. This is always good practice for any shopping you do.
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