Dumplings are beautifully universal. Almost every culture and country has its very own dumpling. They may not all use the word “dumpling”, but the concept is the same: a dough casing wrapped around some sort of filling or, sometimes, just dough. Either way, most everyone loves dumplings in some shape or form.
Here’s what popular dumplings look like on different continents:
West Africa: Fufu
Photo credit: thespruceeats.com
A staple food all over West Africa and in parts of Central Africa as well as the Caribbean, fufu is a simple starchy dumpling, usually made with cassava, yam or plantain. It’s a finger food that’s made to be dipped into various sauces, stews or soups.
South Africa: Dombolo and souskluitjies
Photo credit: @zola_nene
Dombolo, also known as madombi in Botswana, are traditional bread dumplings, usually made with cake flour. They’re placed directly on top of a stew to soak up all the flavours. Dombolo were known to be one of Nelson Mandela’s favourite foods.
Souskluitjies, which translates directly from Afrikaans to mean “sauce dumplings”, are old-fashioned dessert dumplings that are soaked in custard or sweet cinnamon syrup.
Latin America: Empanadas
Photo credit: @buenosairespoloclub
Empanadas are thought to have Spanish origins, but they are particularly popular in Latin America and the United States. They are also common in the Philippines and Indonesia. These crisp, folded pastries can contain a variety of fillings, from corn, to meat, to cheese. Empanadas can be found all over the world, usually at Mexican or Argentinean restaurants.
Tamales are made with a starchy, corn-based dough that is steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. The wrapping is then discarded or used as a plate. Tamales can be filled with meat, cheese, veggies, fruits and, of course, chillies.
USA: Chicken and dumplings
This Southern comfort-food dish combines chicken soup and American-style dumplings, which are usually a mix of flour, vegetable shortening and milk.
Asia arguably has more types of dumplings than any other continent. We’re going to try narrow it down, but this won’t be easy owing to our immense love of all things dumpling.
Greater China: Har Gow, char siu bao, xiao long bao and more
Shengjian bao are popular fried soup dumplings in Shanghai
The Greater China region is quite honestly a dumpling lover’s paradise. Just walking down the street anywhere in Hong Kong, China or Taiwan, you’ll find plenty of delectable and diverse dumpling spots. Each region specialises in specific dumplings, but you’ll find all sorts anywhere you look.
Dim sum on a Sunday is a sacred Hong Kong tradition that usually involves sharing har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings), char siu bao (BBQ pork buns), shumai (steamed shrimp and pork dumplings) and more with family and friends. Luckily in Hong Kong, you can also find almost any style of Chinese dumpling.
In China, dumplings differ by region. Shanghai is famous for shengjian bao (crisp-bottom soup dumplings) and xiao long bao (soup dumplings). Jiaozi are northern-style dumplings, eaten all over China and especially during Chinese New Year. Jiaozi are simple dumplings made with a traditional casing and a filling of meat and vegetables.
Potsticker-style dumplings are popular in Taiwan, with chains like Bafang (also all over HK) serving up affordable and reliable varietiess. Taiwan is home to the very first Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung, now world
famous for their handmade xiao long bao.
Photo credit: Manakamana Nepali Restaurant
Momo are steamed or fried filled dumplings that are usually served with a spicy tomato-based dip. Momo are eaten all over northern India, south-west China (Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan) and in parts of eastern India. In India, momo are sold by street vendors as a delicious on-the-go snack.
Photo credit: @jonnyboyeats
These crescent-shaped dumplings are the Japanese version of jiaozi. Japanese soldiers brought the recipe back from China after the Second World War, and the rest is history. The main difference is that gyoza have a strong garlic flavour and thinner casing. Gyoza are usually pan-fried or deep-fried and served with a tangy black vinegar and chilli dipping sauce.
Korean mandu are similar to jiaozi and gyoza and can be steamed, fried or grilled. They can have a wide variety of sweet and savoury fillings.
Also referred to as “Turkish ravioli”, manti are filled with a lamb mixture and topped with yoghurt, garlic, melted butter and tomato and spiced with sumac, red pepper and dried mint. While generally considered a Turkish dish, the origins of manti are uncertain, and they are consumed in regions across Central Asia and the Middle East.
Vietnam: Bánh bột lọc
Photo credit: @magspie08
These Vietnamese dumplings have a shrimp filling and translucent wrapper that give them a pretty pink hue. Bánh bột lọc have a chewy texture owing to their tapioca casing, and they are usually topped with fried shallots and dipped in sweet chilli fish sauce. They are steamed or boiled, often wrapped in a banana leaf.
Central and Eastern Europe: Matzo balls
Photo credit: @perlysrichmond
If you grew up in a Jewish home like I did, you’ll be no stranger to the importance of matzo balls. A staple dish at every Passover table, matzo balls are made with matzo crackers that are schmaltzed up with chicken fat, served in chicken soup. Matzo ball soup can be found anywhere with an Ashkenazi Jewish community, which is why it’s become a popular dish at New York delis.
Czech Republic: Knedlicky
Photo credit: strawberry knedlicky by @joleva68
Depending on where you are in Europe, knedlicky can also be referred to as knaidel, knaidlach or knödel. These starchy dumplings also originated with the spread of Ashkenazim throughout Eastern Europe. Knedlicky come in different forms, either as light and fluffy bread dumplings or heavier potato dumplings to mop up soup or stew – and even as sweet dumplings that are filled with plum, strawberry or jam.
Photo credit: Pici
Ravioli may not be exactly what come to mind when you think of dumplings, but that is essentially what these little parcels of joy are – a variety of fillings encased in dough (in this case, pasta dough). While certainly an authentic Italian dish, ravioli have long been popular all over the world, with many supermarkets selling pre-made versions. However, nothing beats homemade ravioli.
Poland boasts a pretty impressive dumpling repertoire, however, they are most famous for pierogi. It’s common to host “dumpling parties” where everyone helps out by kneading the dough, filling and cooking the party snacks. Traditional pierogi fillings include potato, sauerkraut, minced meat, cottage cheese, mushroom and various fruits. Versions of pierogi are eaten across Eastern Europe, and while their origins are disputed, pierogi are an undeniably important part of Polish culture. There is even a patron saint of the pierogi!
There are certainly many types of dumplings that did not make it onto this list, and we may never be able to sample all the world’s dumplings… but we can certainly try, one dumpling at a time!
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