Cultures worldwide seem to have similar ideas when it comes to food, but perhaps none is more ubiquitous (or more delicious) than the ever-popular stuffed staple food commonly referred to as a dumpling. It is known by many names around the world, with each version being tastier than the last.
Dumpling is a broad class of dishes that consist of pieces of dough (made from a variety of starch sources), often wrapped around a filling. Dumplings are made in a variety of ways, which include frying, steaming, boiling, or baking.
The Chinese enjoy baozi (stuffed steamed buns) and jiaozi (steamed dumplings); Argentina and Brazil enjoy empanadas; Ghanaians stuff fufu, mashed cassava, or plantain, with delectable fillings; and the Poles serve perfect pierogi. In this blog, we take around the world as we explore the history of dumplings.
Why Are Dumplings Popular?
It’s clear that the idea originated in a number of locations around the world at about the same time, so there must be a good reason for its spread. Many food historians believe that the idea for dumplings arose independently but for the same reason: to preserve food. Food wasn’t nearly as affordable or accessible in much of the world hundreds of years ago, and the rise of the dumpling appears to accommodate larger families with smaller amounts of food.
A small amount of meat may not have been enough to feed an entire family, but when combined with other plentiful ingredients like carrots and cabbage and folded into a floury dough, each person would get a great taste of meat and a bit of protein. A few dumplings would provide a filling, nutrient-dense meal.
The Origins of Dumplings
When and where did this versatile and tasty treat first appear? It’s difficult to say, given that so many cultures have some form of a stuffed, carbohydrate-filled bite-sized snack. The first known recipes for this type of food can be found in Apicius, an ancient Roman cookbook. Unlike modern Italian ravioli (a delicious dumpling in its own right), this dish consists of poached balls of roasted pheasant chopped with fat and seasonings.
However, Rome was not the only place where boiled dumplings became popular. Stale bread soaked in milk or other liquid is used as a base for the dumpling, which is then mixed with other leftover foods and boiled in broth in Austria. Spaetzle is an unfilled doughy dumpling that is boiled in water in Germany.
The modern concept of a filled dumpling did not arrive in Europe until much later, but it was more common in Asia. Chinese dumplings like those you’d find in a restaurant today have been around for nearly two thousand years and have remained largely unchanged.
When Zhang Zhongjian returned to his home village and discovered neighbors suffering from frostbite, especially around the ears, he was often credited with their invention. Zhang then made tasty mutton, chili, and healing herb mixture that he wrapped in the leftover dough to form the shape of ears in the hopes of directing the warming powers of the boiled parcels to their most frostbitten appendages.
Join Us At The Dumpling School
Join us at the Dumpling School in Cambridge to get a taste of some authentic Chinese dumplings for yourself. Book a party today on our website and in the meantime take a look at the types of parties we offer. We look forward to making dumplings with you soon!