After living abroad for five years and traveling to over 60 countries, I have figured out I have a problem.
I am obsessed with Asian dumplings.
I dream about them when I sleep. I drool on my keyboard thinking about them.
I have a friend here in Belize who swears she could eat tacos everyday; I think I could easily eat dumplings every day.
Fried, boiled, steamed…no matter how you cook ’em, I’ll eat ’em.
When I first moved to Taiwan, I became instantly enamored with xiao long bao from the famed Din Tai Fung. Those little pockets of perfection quickly became my comfort food for nearly four years — I’d eat them pretty much every Monday without fail. My unconditional love for xiao long bao is so deep that they were the basis for our site’s prior header image and, well, you can’t miss the cartoon cutie who is the inspiration behind our new Our Tasty Travels logo.
Now that I am living on a small island in Belize most of the year and a tiny village in the Netherlands the remainder of the time I’m not on the road, my access to good Asian dumplings has dwindled, becoming nearly non-existent at times.
Like any good dumpling addict, I have helped drag others down by cooking them on a fairly regular basis here in Belize. I mean, friends shouldn’t let friends eat dumplings alone right?
As an ode to my current culinary obsession, here’s a look at some of my favorite types of dumplings and some of my recommended spots on where to get them!
Pot Stickers — Dumpling Inn, San Diego, California
I’ve had pot stickers in a number of spots, but I have to say the ones at the Dumpling Inn in San Diego, California, have been among the most memorable. We ventured there under the premise of their xiao long bao being some of the best in California and yeah, they didn’t rank among my top picks, but the pot stickers were killer.
Crispy Pork Buns — Kao Chi, Taipei, Taiwan
Yes, they are more buns than dumplings, but since they often creep into my dumpling dreams, I’d be remiss in not including them. Kao Chi’s crispy pork buns are often considered the biggest rival to Din Tai Fung, but there is definitely enough room in my heart to love both places. Kao Chi’s buns have the more dense and fluffy dough typically found in other pork buns, but with a combination of steaming and pan frying, these are addicting.
Pork Xiao Long Bao — Din Tai Fung, Taipei
The original pork xiao long bao from Din Tai Fung in Taipei is pretty much unsurpassed. Aside from looking absolutely perfect, they taste as good as they look. The skins are so delicate in comparison to other xiao long bao I’ve had in various Chinatowns. Even the Din Tai Fung locations outside of Taipei are noticeably different. And yes, there are some other really good xiao long bao available in Taipei, but I’d rather spend the extra time and a few dollars more to get the dumplings I really like.
Truffle Xiao Long Bao — Din Tai Fung, Hong Kong
I hate to say it but the truffle xiao long bao are better now in Hong Kong than the Taipei locations. When these were first introduced, it was about $30 US for an order of eight, and they were filled with chopped black truffle. Now, they a bit cheaper, available in smaller quantities, and with that, less noticeable truffle flavor as I think they use truffle paste. When I was in Hong Kong for New Year’s Eve, we stopped by the Wan Chai Din Tai Fung and wow…the truffle xiao long bao there are more truffle than pork as you can see in this photo below!
Spicy Pork Wontons in Chili Oil – Din Tai Fung, Taipei
Yes, another Din Tai Fung specialty. Their spicy pork wontons in chili oil with green onions are far better than any others I’ve had to date. Having made these at home several times, I am continually impressed at the quality of Din Tai Fung’s wontons. They don’t break and the the chili oil is the perfect mix of flavor and some potent heat.
La Zi Ji (1,000 Chilis) Dumplings – Rojo Beach Bar, Ambergris Caye, Belize
Good Asian food is quite hard to come by in Belize, especially in the Cayes. What you find here as “Chinese” is not even what I am typically used with American Chinese. Here they refer to Chinese more as fast food versus authentic Asian cuisine. However, if you head a few miles north on Ambergris Caye, Rojo Beach Bar is my Asian food safe haven. Aside from amazing noodles and pork bao, they have some delicious spicy Asian dumplings that keep me satiated in between trips home and my own attempts at dumplings in the kitchen.
The list of my favorite dumpling types is probably never ending. Here are some general recommendations on Asian dumplings to try on your travels:
Steamed Shrimp Dumplings, Hong Kong
One of the most common dumplings you will find in Cantonese dim sum is the Ha Gao, Har Gow, or Chinese Shrimp Dumpling. These are easily identifiable by their translucent sticky wrappers. Done wrong, they can be gooey, rip apart and be far too chewy. But done right, they can be downright delectable.
Chiu Chow (Teochew) Dumplings, Hong Kong
Another interesting dumpling often seen at Hong Kong dim sum joints is the Chiu Chow, Teochew, or fun guo. Like the steamed shrimp dumpling, it’s a translucent skin, but the filling differs greatly and they are much crunchier than a steamed shrimp dumpling.
Japanese Gyoza, Japan
Japanese Gyoza are fundamentally the same as Chinese potstickers. Steamed and pan-fried, the notable differences are typically thinner skins and more pronounced garlic flavor in gyoza. Sauces can vary and since the Chinese potsticker, or jiaozi, can vary by region, you may pick out other differences.
Can’t leave out India’s contribution to the Asian dumpling scene. I haven’t been to India so I can’t actually compare, but the samosas I’ve had in other countries like Egypt, the Netherlands, and even Taiwan were surprisingly good. I’m guessing anywhere with a good Indian population is going to have some awesome offerings. Now, culinary travelers who have been to India may debate me on this one obviously!
What are some of your favorite Asian dumplings? Any recommendations on xiao long bao places I need to try?