By Jennifer 8. Lee | June 29, 2009
This is from a retreat that I went to, where we were asked to write essays based on the This I Believe format. It’s a very popular writing exercise. I really do believe in the power of dumplings.
I believe in the power of dumplings
Who doesn’t love dumplings? Steamed, boiled, or fried, they are universal.
I once made 888 dumplings for a party, my personal record. A man came up to me while I was folding and said he had heard the legend of the girl who made a thousand dumplings and wandered off. You might have crudites, warm cheese, stale hummus, left over at the end of the party. You will never have left over dumplings– unless you burned them.
Dumplings were my savior. In elementary school, we were puzzled by the teacherâ€™s call for a bake sale. Chinese people donâ€™t bake. They don’t have ovens in even the fanciest yuppie apartments in Shanghai and Beijing. Instead we made fried dumplings. They were always among the first to sell out.
But pause and reflect nearly every culture has some version of a meat and vegetable bundle in a carbohydrate casing — and if they don’t, they borrowed it from somewhere else. In China they had potstickers, which became gyoza in Japan, manduk in Korea and momos in Tibet. In Brazil, land of meat, gyoza were brought over by Japanese immigrants and morphed into gargantuan things the size of a man’s first. There are also the dumpling cousins: Italian raviolis, Jewish Kreplach, Indian samosas, Jamaican patties, Polish perogis, and Ukranian varenikt. Humans, much like we’re genetically programmed to think babies are cute and protection-worthy, are designed to love dumplings.
While many foreign foods that have appeared in America are unrecognizable to their â€œnative countriesâ€ — burritos, chicken tikka masala, General Tsoâ€™s chicken, spaghetti and meatballs –Â dumplings, in contrast, have stayed true to form. That speak to their cultural transcendence.
Dumplings span not only cultures, but diet and class as well. If you are vegan, you can eat vegetable dumplings. If you are kosher or halal you can eat lamb dumplings. If you like white meat, you can eat chicken dumplings. If you have celiac diseases you can get wrappers made of rice flour. But, alas, if you are on an Atkins diet, the best you can do is just eat the insides.Â And dumplings can range from crude basic peasant-style pork and cabbage to delicately constructed gourmet shark-fun foie gras dumplings.
And they are friendly to cooking-phobic single men. I cannot tell you how many echo-ey fridges and freezers i have opened to find a bag of Costco dumplings as a form of quick sustenance.
And lastly, they transcend generations. My mom taught me to me how to make dumplings by hand for those elementary school bakesales. I do not know if my children will speak Chinese with any great competence (cross fingers!) but I know they will know how to make dumplings. Because I will teach them how to make them by hand, maybe for their bake sales.
I believe in the power of dumplings.
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