Dumplings in the News

The NY Times ran an article on two new dumpling ventures in NYC.  They report that a branch of the Hong Kong based dim sum restaurant Tim Ho Wan has opened in the East Village.  Tim Ho Wan was started by the chef Mak Kwai Pui, who had previously been in charge of dim sum at the Four Seasons hotel in Hong Kong. He and his partner, Leung Fai Keung, struck out on their own to build the back to basics and affordable Tim Ho Wan chain.

The second restaurant the Times reported on was Pinch Chinese in Soho which specializes in Xaio Long Bao.  The chef Charlie Chen is an expatriate from the Taiwanese Din Tai Fung chain.  The times article pitched this opening as New Yorker’s first local opportunity to try the Din Tai Fung aesthetic, but as I have argued before, Din Tai Fung is over rated and there are excellent soup dumplings to be had in New York City.

I will be working my way around to both of these restaurants in the coming months.

Veggie Dumplings at Oriental Taste, Northampton, MA

A friend pointed me to a great 2015 article on WGBH CravingBoston on the culinary origins and history of dumplings, once again reviving the argument of what counts as a dumpling.  A few of my favorite quotes:

“Written descriptions can be found in Apicius, a collection of ancient Roman recipes written at the turn of the fourth century, as well as in Chinese records dating back to the Song dynasty (960 – 1279), though they surely predate such accounts. Due to their simplicity, the prevailing theory among scholars is that dumplings likely developed independently throughout the world, with no single country or region able to claim the patent.”

Dr. Ken Albala is quoted as saying:

“Dumpling originally refers to a roundish blob of dough dropped directly into boiling water or broth. So bread and crumb mixtures you find all over Eastern Europe are proper dumplings,” he said. “Asian dumplings are nothing of the kind, they’re noodles with fillings, boiled or steamed. It was a mistake to call them that in the first place.”

The article continues to explain:

The reason for the confusion is simple: English is limited. We use Latin to classify species, French for cooking terminology, and our curse-words fall far below global averages in both creativity and imagery. English lacks the linguistic specificity to account for all the various forms of regional foods, so the word dumpling was applied wholesale, creating a bitterly divisive semantic debate.

Alan Davidson, author of The Oxford Companion to Food, finds these taxonomic broad strokes particularly offensive to his originalist interpretation. He takes issue with “the numerous tribe of dumpling lookalikes, things which are neither dumplings nor English, but have been called dumplings, when an English name for them has been required.” The application of the word to East Asian dumplings is particularly offensive to Davidson, who calls it a “heinous excursion.”

The debate about what constitutes a dumpling is then picked up in a series of comments from Boston based chefs.

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1 Response to Dumplings in the News

  1. John Rundle says:

    I agree with Dr. Albala and Mr. Davidson real dumplings are just roundish blobs of dough that are cooked in broth (not so sure about the plain water comment). My mother always had these dumplings when she made soups or stews. The outside was usually smooth and “doughy” but inside it was like a very light bread texture, great for soaking up the broth or eating as is.

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