Everybody loves dumplings.
Italians have ravioli and the Germans have spätzle. There’s Japanese gyoza, Polish pierogies, African fufu, and Cuban papas rellenas. Dumplings soar to new heights with the culture and traditions of Chinese dim sum, and you can’t be Jewish without yearning for a matzoh ball now and then.
At its most basic, a dumpling is the simplest of concepts: a cooked ball of dough. It can be made from potato, flour, rice, or bread. Dumplings can be sweet or savory, filled or unfilled, steamed, simmered, fried, baked, or boiled. They can appear as any course at any meal, at any time of day or night. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, there’s a dumpling option for you.
Savory varieties are usually topped with melted butter, sour cream, fried cubes of uncured pork fatback, and fried onions. Fruit-filled sweet ones are usually topped with melted butter, sour cream, honey, or raspberry jam. Either way, Time Magazine once called varenyky the greatest of all European foods.
Smaller than varenyky, with thinner dumpling skins, pelmeni are always savory and have a higher filling to dough ratio. Frozen bags of pre-made pelmeni are so ubiquitous that they are seen as student or bachelor food, kind of like our instant ramen.
You can readily buy tortellini that is dried, frozen, and canned in soup. But don’t. You want it freshly-made and served in a rich meat broth—the classic tortellini en brodo—in a shape that pays tribute to Venus’ belly button.
Xiaolongbao/Soup Dumplings (Shanghai)
Thin, chewy dumpling skins, mild, gingery filling, all bathed in a few spoonfuls of steamy broth— the first bite of a Shanghai soup dumpling is a rich, juicy explosion that plays like a symphony in your mouth.
Apple Dumpling (U.S.-Amish)
It’s a whole apple sweetened with sugar and cinnamon encased in a flaky pastry, and you get to eat it for breakfast, Pennsylvania Dutch-style. Think of it as a precursor to the Pop-Tart.
Aushak’s closest relative is the Italian ravioli with meat sauce; but that is merely a reference point. The dough is thinner and more delicate, the filling is a sharp puree of leeks or scallions, and it’s topped with two sauces, one of spiced, finely ground lamb, and a second sauce of yogurt that cools the kick of the other.