About the author: Christine Wong, the creator of the popular Instagram account @conscious_cooking, is a NYC-based certified health coach, blogger, author of two books on vegan food and plastic-free low waste living, and host of regular vegan dumpling workshops. In today’s article, she explores the relationship between food, culture, race, and authenticity, and shares her selection of recipes for vegan dumplings from different Asian cultures.
With globalization and easy access to recipes and ingredients, anyone can cook and “eat the world” in the comfort of their own kitchen! Unfortunately, this comes at a cost with the dilution and culinary appropriation of recipes. A cook’s interpretations and adjustments are perfectly acceptable, but when sharing a modified version of an ethnic dish, one needs to be cognizant and respectful of its culture and history – and not claim it is “authentic”, or boast that your whitewashed version is “better” than a dish that has existed for centuries in its country of origin.
That’s not to say that Westerners can’t be experts in Asian food, or an Asian chef can’t excel as a pastry chef in a Michelin-starred French restaurant. Food is culture. Food is identity. So it’s important to have respect for it and to use language that is accurate to describe the dish and towards the people who grew up in that culture – to support them when they need solidarity.
When sharing a modified version of an ethnic dish, one needs to be cognizant and respectful of its culture and history – and not claim it is “authentic”.
The melting pot of cultures, along with food trends that circle the globe, keeps what we eat continuously evolving. We certainly aren’t eating exactly the same dishes our ancestors did. We adapt with every migration to a new country with traditional dishes improvised by the availability of ingredients and local tastes. The birth of American-Chinese food is one example. Although some may not regard these adaptations as “authentic”, the reality is that this cuisine, and foods like the fortune cookie, General Tso’s, and Crab Rangoon, are here to stay.
Is race an issue when it comes to food?
It is when:
- Any kids of different cultures have been made to feel ashamed of their “stinky” homemade packed lunch.
- Anyone who passes judgment on another culture’s cuisine because it’s unfamiliar, without the willingness to even try the food.
- People fear they can catch a virus just by eating at a Chinese restaurant (the way they did when the pandemic first hit) along with the assumption that all Chinese people eat bats (Read: What You Know About Veganism and China is Wrong). Misnomers like these have been devastating to the Asian community resulting in the decline of support to small businesses, and the increase in hate crimes against Asians across the globe.
- Food bloggers profit off of culturally-appropriated recipes without respect or support to the culture and community they are profiting from.
This article is in response to a PureWow article highlighting 25 Dumpling Recipes to Make at Home with the smallest nod to Lunar New Year. More than half of these recipes were by non-Asian food bloggers, who use the “better than takeout” message, and not a single nod was made to the true history and culture of the dish. One popular non-Asian food blogger was featured 6 times with pretty much the same potstickers (but with different fillings.) Dumplings are so much more than this white-washed list.
A brief history of dumplings
The dictionary defines the word dumpling [duhmp•ling] as small lumps of dough that are cooked and eaten, either [stuffed] with vegetables/meat or as a fruit-filled dessert. Beyond this simple definition, there’s a rich culinary and cultural history behind the creation of each variation of these beloved morsels.
Stuffed dumplings, jiaozi 饺子, originated in China over 1,800 years ago. It was introduced by a healer named Zhang Zhongjing to cure his hometown community of frostbitten ears. Filled with medicinal herbs (and meat) they were boiled and served with a broth to promote circulation and were a tasty cure.
With Chinese origins and use of local ingredients, dumplings have been reinvented and evolved to adapt to local tastes.
Since then, dumplings have made their way throughout Asia, and the world, through immigrants who settled in other countries. With Chinese origins and use of local ingredients, dumplings have been reinvented and evolved to adapt to local tastes and availability of ingredients, and are now commonly known throughout the world as gyoza, momo, mandu, dim sum, shumai, wonton, mantu, xlb, tangyuan, siopao, modak, bánh ít trần, fun guo, bao, or potstickers, etc. With a plethora of regional nuances and flavors, they’re bite-sized parcels of bliss that can be boiled, steamed, pan-fried, and deep-fried.
Dumplings are also a way of using up leftovers and transforming a few ingredients into a substantial meal, which was ideal in times of hardship and for feeding provincial communities and large families.
A wide variety of dumplings can be found in Cantonese dim sum (translated as “touch the heart”) Traditionally, it is a daytime meal (breakfast/lunch), eaten whilst sipping tea “yum cha”. In ancient China, travelers and merchants would stop at tea houses along the Silk Road to break up their journey. Small bite-sized dumplings, typically served in a three-piece portion, allowed for customers to enjoy a good variety of dishes to accompany the tea.
Dumplings are also enjoyed during festivals. They symbolize wealth during Lunar New Year due to their ingot shape. Mandu Guk (Dumpling Soup) is traditionally eaten for Seollal 설날, Korean New Year’s Day symbolizing growing a year older, along with good health and a good fortune for the new year. On the 15th day of the new year for the Spring Lantern Festival, Tāng Yuán, sweet glutinous rice balls, are eaten to symbolize reunion and togetherness. Hanami Dango is a skewered sweet Japanese rice flour dumpling, enjoyed during Hanami – cherry blossom viewing. The name literally translates to “flower looking.”
Here’s a collection of 25 delicious vegan parcels selected to sustainably celebrate Asian culture for special occasions and any day.
25 Ways to Make Vegan Dumplings & Sustainably Celebrate Asian Culture
Pan-fried dumplings or potstickers, originated when a chef in China’s Imperial Court during the Song Dynasty was boiling dumplings in a wok (guo), Chinese cooking pot, and accidentally forgot about them. After the water had evaporated, the dumplings stuck (tie). The dumplings were crispy on the bottom, but soft on the top. With no time to prepare another batch, he served this special creation to the members of the court, who instantly fell in love with them. The name for these dumplings, guotie, “wok stick” literally stuck, and was translated into English as “potsticker”.
One of the most popular dim sum dishes, this dumpling recipe uses vegan prawns for the filling.
Also known as shao mai 烧卖 in Mandarin, this dish is thought to have originated in Inner Mongolia. This type of glutinous rice filling is more commonly served in the Jiangnan region (from Shanghai to Nanjing).
Also known as Hóng Yoú Chāo Shǒu 红油抄手 (Red Oil Wonton) this popular Sichuan street food is served with a mouthwatering spicy sauce.
Tang Yuan are sweet rice dumplings that are traditionally enjoyed during the Spring Lantern Festival which is the 15th day of the Lunar New Year celebrations. They symbolize family reunions and happiness. Substitute the butter with coconut butter or coconut oil.
Autumnal and cozy sweet pumpkin mochi dumplings. Substitute the butter with 40g coconut oil for the red bean paste filling.
Inspired by the Chinese jiaozi, Japanese soldiers who occupied Manchuria during WWII, gyoza was recreated. They’re smaller in size, with a thinner dumpling skin than the Chinese counterparts.
Hanami Dango, also called Sanshoku Dango (3 colored dango) is sold year-round but is especially popular during the spring during the cherry blossom viewing. This is where the name Hanami Dango stems from where Hanami literally translates to “flower looking”.
Rice cake soup is traditionally eaten on Korean New Year’s Day (Seollal) with boiled mandu dumplings, it’s a substantial meal any time.
These stuffed flat pan-fried dumplings are a vegan version of a popular Taiwanese street food.
Similar to Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) a jellied stock makes the filling of these crispy-bottomed vegan dumplings bursting with a hot flavourful soup in each bite.
Wonton literally translates as “swallowing clouds”, it’s no wonder that this simple soup is a comforting and nostalgic cure-all.
Momoa originated in Tibet and traveled from the beautiful Himalayan mountainscape to settle and gain popularity in Nepal and India.
These fluffy, sweet, and savory buns are a popular snack brought to the Philippines in 1918 by a Chinese immigrant who distributed door-to-door samples as well as feeding disaster victims. Asado is the Spanish influence of braising.
These Vietnamese dumplings translate as “Little Naked Cakes” because these little bites are boiled, not wrapped in banana leaves, and steamed.
These crystal vegan dumplings are filled with a festive combination of textures with mushrooms and tofu, complemented with the crispness of celery and water chestnuts and the crunch of toasted peanuts.
NYONYA (Malaysia / Indonesia / Singapore)
Nyonya cuisine is the fusion of Chinese ‘Peranakan’ immigrant cooking techniques with local Malay ingredients and flavors. These rice parcels, enjoyed during Dragon Boat Festival differ from Chinese zongzi with the addition of coriander powder and candied winter melon.
Morsels of chewy tapioca pearl dough filled with savory tofu and nuts, topped with crispy fried garlic.
Bua Loi is a nostalgic Thai dessert that means “floating lotus”. They are simply prepared rice pearls in warm coconut cream.
With multi-cultural Dutch and Indonesian heritage, Pauline’s dishes celebrate dishes by Beb Vuyk (1905-1991), a Dutch-Indonesian who wrote the “Groot Indonesisch Kookboek” (big/great Indonesian Cookbook) filled with 578 recipes. Bapao (bakpao) is a Chinese Indonesian street food snack. This recipe is filled with vegetarian “meat”, there are also tempeh and jackfruit versions as well on this website.
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Momos usually have a thick wheat wrapper and are enjoyed with a spicy tomato chutney made with ground peanuts, soybeans, cumin seeds, and Szechuan peppercorns.
Crisp and chewy potstickers with an Indian flair served with a tantalizing green chutney.
Fresh coconut is the key ingredient to the sweet stuffing for these Indian dumplings, which are a traditional offering during Ganesh Chaturthi. They’re traditionally made in batches of 21.
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As with most Uzbek foods, these large dumplings are traditionally eaten with hands.
Crab Rangoon is American creation in the 1940s at Trader Vic’s Polynesian tiki-themed bar (the menu was largely influenced by Joe Young, a Chinese-American) to appeal to American palates while at the same time, make Chinese food more exotic.
Article by Christine Wong.
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