Comfort food and the small-plate craze
in one neat bundle
By Susan Reilly email@example.com
We don’t have dumpling dens in these
parts. Little hole-in-the-wall places
found in big cities where a dollar will
buy you five perfectly steamed
dumplings. Meant to be eaten on the
sidewalk out front, these dumplings are
snacks for the masses, hearty and quick.
We do have an abundance of Chinese
restaurants, though, all with dumplings
on their menus as appetizers.
While the dumpling concept is simple,
the fillings and styles are not. Unique
and regionalized depending on the
restaurant and the chef’s whim, what you
order from one place will most certainly
not be like what you order from
somewhere else. But part of the fun is
the surprise flavors all wrapped up in a
neat little bundle and the spicy house
sauce that typically comes with them.
“Dumpling” is a broad term. In Chinese
cuisine it means a stuffed pocket of
dough that is either steamed or fried.
But the Chinese are not the only ones
fond of these little treats.
You will find a dough pocket with a
savory filling in most cuisines.
Mexicans have the sopapillas; there’s
also the Scottish meat pie, Polish
pierogis, Indian samosas, Argentine
empanadas and Italian raviolis, to name
The Chinese have been eating dumplings
since the 10th century. In the north of
China, where the cuisine is Szechuan,
Mandarin or Hunan, dumplings tend to be
heartier, thicker-skinned and filled
with spicy meats and root vegetables,
reflecting the colder climate. Dumplings
there tend to be served as one-course
In southern China, the dumplings tend to
be thinner-skinned as they are made of a
rice noodle wrapper and often filled
with seafood. This is the Cantonese
style and in this region dumplings are
regarded as a snack or dim sum or a side
In any region, dumplings are comfort
North Garden on Mast Road in Manchester
has conventional dumplings as appetizers
and an extensive selection of dumplings
on the dim sum menu. Owner Winnie Zeng
says the dim sum dumplings are very
“At first is was just Chinese looking
for traditional dumplings. But lately
Americans are catching on and coming in
for dim sum. We are very busy,” she
Zeng says that making dumplings at home
is laborious and most people don’t have
the time, patience or equipment to do
“There is a lot of preparation and hand
work with dumplings. Some dumplings
steam for several hours. Most people
find it is easier to go out to a
restaurant and sample different
flavors,” she said.
The North Garden kitchen staff, led by
her husband Wei Wen Zeng, makes hundreds
of dumplings twice a week.
“We grew up eating dumplings. It is a
family thing. Now I see American
families coming in and everyone gets to
try something,” said Zeng.
North Garden’s menu offers the commonly
recognized Peking Ravoli (6 for $4.75)
either steamed or fried, and Shao Mai (6
for $4.50), steamed dumplings filled
with pork and shrimp.
But the dim sum menu offers 26 different
dumplings, ranging from steamed shrimp
dumplings (4 for $3) and steamed buns
with barbecued pork (3 for $2.40) to
fried taro turnovers (3 for $2.40) and
deep-fried sesame balls (3 for $2.40).
North Garden has the most extensive
dumpling menu in southern New Hampshire.
“My husband loves to eat, so he started
cooking at age 16. He has been cooking
for so many years that our food is very
good,” said Zeng.
One of the most popular dumplings at
North Garden is the traditional sticky
rice (2 for $3.80), which is rice with
meat and vegetables wrapped in a lotus
leaf and steamed.
“People always ask about the lotus leaf.
But it is the lotus leaf that keeps the
rice moist and flavorful,” said Zeng.
Traditional Chinese dumplings cover a
full range of flavors and textures, from
fried and steamed to savory and sweet.
Making a meal of dumplings, or enjoying
them as a side dish, is a treat.
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