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Home-made jiaozi, also called guo tie, or potstickers, ready to cook


Every time I make dumplings it’s never enough. Everyone loves them. One of my sisters announced, at the Jen Cafe in Chinatown (where we were, of course, getting dumplings), that it was not possible to eat too many dumplings. It just wasn’t. You could, she said, just carry on eating them until you got bored. Or kicked out of the shop.

Jen Cafe (tiny, steamy) always has a diligent woman in the window making dumplings by hand. They are chewy, with tiny bubbles threatening to escape through the skins and (unlike the prettier sort) simply sealed unpleated into fat-bellied half-moons. A plate of seven costs about £5. We ordered three rounds of the Beijing dumplings, one steamed and two fried, and each plate was subtly different. Silk Road, in Camberwell, has terrific house-made dumplings in the Xinjiang (north-west China) style — made with lamb and onion.

Dumplingdom (the domain of steamed or boiled dough-things) is a wide field — from the many different dim sum to the matzo ball to the pierogi. There is something comforting about having a wrapper with something inside — the Cornish pasty, the calzone. I have made Taiwanese pineapple cakes — soft shortbread crust with golden pineapple concealed inside (almost like an Asian mince pie) — and felt the same pleasure. And I love manti — sometimes referred to as Turkish ravioli, they are really more dumpling-like, made of small squares of rolled-out dough pinched shut around scraps of lamb, into a sort of tiny pyramid. Manti, I think, must be something spread from central Asia on the Silk Road, because the word signifies a dumpling of this wrapped sort quite widely. Korea has dumplings called “mandu”. (Mantou, in China, is a sweet fluffy steamed bun, so not quite the same.) Food words — like words for trade goods — are easily spread and absorbed into other languages. (Tea, copper, orange, sugar, wine: for all of these words the same root has spread into many different languages.)

If you want your dumplings to be beautiful, get Janice Wong and Jian Jun Ma’s Dim Sum: A Flour-Forward Approach (Gatehouse Publishing, £24). If you want to make a relatively basic dumpling, go for the northern Chinese-style jiaozi, or guo tie: a wheatflour wrapper and a pork-and-cabbage interior, steamed or fried, crispy, chewy, juicy, tender. Prawns are permitted, chicken is known of, but pork, I’m afraid — and fatty pork — is  what we want. (Lamb and onions could be substituted, taking it closer to a Turkic dumpling.) The wrappers, if you like, can be bought from Asian supermarkets, and they freeze perfectly well, if the idea of rolling out a hundred dumpling skins worries you. But this is cooking as occupational therapy and it’s better, honestly, just to make the dumpling and then freeze it, whole, to bring out at some grim time in the future when you don’t want to leave the house. The only piece of special kit you need is a small-diameter rolling pin — it makes a huge difference to the effort you have to expend. You want one that looks and feels like a piece of broom handle.

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