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What are Baos and Dumplings?

If you have tried Chinese food in a Chinese restaurant anywhere in the world, chances are you know of something called dumplings. Just exactly what are they?

Let’s use pies as an analogy. There are many different types of pies – shepherd’s pie, chicken pie, apple pie and mince pie. They are either sweet or savoury and made of different types of pastry dough and fillings. Like pies, dumplings come under many different sizes, shapes, pastry dough and fillings. The way they are cooked also vary hugely. Under the dumpling family, there are:

Dim sum (點心)– Cantonese, originated in southern China and Hong Kong; usually steamed in bamboo steamers; often made with rice flour and prawns are usually a key ingredient. Dim sums are served in small bamboo steamers during Cantonese Sunday teas, a popular tradition when friends and family gather to chat and enjoy food together for lunch and throughout the afternoon.

Jiaozi (餃子)– fan shaped dumplings, sometimes also called pot sticks; either boiled, steamed or pan fried; northern Chinese and pastry is mainly made with wheat flour. These travelled far and wide over centuries and you can find similar dumplings in Japan (called gyoza with similar pronunciation to the Chinese name jiaozi), in Poland (called pierogi) and in Nepal and Tibet (called momo).

Wontons (饂飩 )– a round shaped dumpling wrapped in a thin pastry wrapper, usually boiled and served in soup. Again, these travelled far and wide and you can find similar food in Russia called pelmeni and of course in Italy called ravioli.

Baozi (包子)– often just called ‘bao‘ in the west for easy pronunciation. The pastry is generally made with leavened wheat dough with the fillings wrapped inside to form a parcel with swirling pleats at the top. Steamed baos are usually bigger, while pan fried baos are much smaller. The pan fried baos are often referred to as Shanghai sheng (uncooked) jian (pan fry) bao. However, there are regional variations to the pan fried baos and on the island of Taiwan, they are called shui (water) jian (pan fry) bao, as they are cooked in a small amount of oil with a larger amount of water added to the pan to steam-cook. Once all the water is evaporated, the final pan frying gives the baos a crispy base.

Gua bao ( 刈包 )– this is commonly called Taiwanese bao buns in the UK. It is a unique Taiwanese bao, which is made of a sandwich type of bun with slow-cooked pork belly and Taiwanese pickled vegetables. Its origin is from Fujian province in China. Taiwan developed its own version called Gua Bao and it became a popular street food.

The original history to the above is largely unknown, but they have all been staple food to the Chinese in various regions for centuries. Taiwanese food is an extension of Chinese food but of course the island has developed its own unique food culture with local produce over the years. Taiwan’s food culture is also heavily influenced by Japanese food culture, as there is a historical link between Japan and Taiwan in recent history.

So, hopefully now you understand better what all these different names are and how they are related in food terms. By now you should feel a little hungry – take a look at my food pages to satisfy your eyes if not belly!