When it comes to easy-to-make comfort food, nothing is more versatile or delicious than Chinese dumplings. In Chinese dishes, you have several different approaches to the filled dough pocket, including classic dumplings, potstickers, and wontons, each of which is unique to the dishes in which they appear and the way in which they are cooked. They are all historic and special in their own way, and there are many recipes and flavors to be enjoyed at family dinners or with celebrations among friends.
While dumplings, potstickers, and wontons have many similarities, understanding what makes them unique and how to make them at home will help ensure that every recipe you try is delicious. And, of course, we also offer the spices and oils that will boost your flavor profiles and make for great dipping sauces. Here are a few things to consider about your unique dumpling choices in Chinese cuisine.
Your Guide to Dumpling, Potstickers, and Wontons
There are a few key differences between dumplings, potstickers, and wontons that will help you decide which dish to make and how to create the ultimate Chinese cuisine right at home. Whether you’re just beginning your Chinese home cooking journey or you’re an old hat, these simple definitions will make it easy to achieve those taste profiles you love and to put your personal take on flavorful dishes.
Dumplings at a Glance
Nearly every culture has their own version of the dumpling, filling wrapped in dough and fried, boiled, or baked, but the Chinese dumpling is, perhaps, one of the most iconic. It’s easy to see why potstickers and wontons often fall under the dumpling umbrella, but there are a few essential distinctions to consider.
Chinese dumplings are nearly 2,000 years old and were first introduced by a man named Zhang Zhongjing, who is widely considered to have been a healer or sometimes a medical saint. The story goes that he returned to his village during a brutal winter to find that an epidemic had rendered many of the villagers ill and left them suffering from the effects of frostbite damage, particularly around the ears.
To combat the condition, he created a small concoction of medicinal herbs, along with cooked lamb and black pepper, and wrapped them in dough shaped like ears. He gave two each, along with hot soup, to the people of his village. Modern science shows that the spices could have helped promote blood flow to the ears and that the dish provided nutrients that boosted the villagers’ immune systems. The epidemic was eradicated, and the villagers no longer suffered from frostbite.
In the generations since, recipes for dumplings have evolved and changed. They can be made with any type of meat or vegetable filling. Methods for heating include boiling, steaming, and pan-frying, which makes them an accessible dish to try at home with just a few ingredients.
In addition to being an easy and delicious dish, dumplings also have special connotations. The fillings carry meaning for families, especially around the Spring Festival and the Chinese Lunar New Year, and they are meant to symbolize wealth and good fortune. You may even find a gold coin tucked into your dumpling, which promises a year of prosperity.
Potstickers at a Glance
Similar to dumplings, potstickers can be made with many unique and delicious fillings, from meats to vegetables. They also share some of the symbolism of the dumpling, promoting health, wealth, and good fortune for the new year with every bite.
Unlike dumplings, potstickers are made with a thin wrapper, sometimes referred to as a dumpling skin. This is because they are steam fried to get a crispy golden bottom layer and to ensure that the filling is juicy and delicious.
According to the stories, a chef was making dumplings and walked away from his pot for so long that the water all boiled off, and he found his dumplings had stuck to the pot. He served the crunchy dumplings to his guests—some stories say the Emperor—and the potsticker was born.
Potstickers are a particularly excellent dish to learn how to make at home because they’re very versatile. In addition to having many unique options for fillings, you can create a wide variety of dipping sauces with which to enjoy your potstickers.
Wontons at a Glance
Wonton soup is a classic dish, and it showcases the most obvious distinction between wontons, dumplings, and potstickers. Wontons use yet another type of wrapping, though it is more similar to potstickers in thinness and texture than dumplings. They are rolled into balls or sometimes shaped with more flourish and specifically served in broth.
Shrimp wontons are one of the most accessible and commonly cooked wonton dishes, but you can fill your wontons with your favorite type of meat or a vegetarian option, if you prefer.
The wonton dates back hundreds of years and was originally served to the nobility and more upper-class families, but after World War II, it became a widespread dish, soon appearing in market stalls and shops. The name wonton is a loose translation for the Cantonese word for “cloud,” a reference to the shape of the wonton floating in soup.
How to Fold Dumplings
When you’re ready to begin making your own dumpling, wontons, or potstickers at home, getting started is easy. You have several unique folding methods to pick from, beginning with the simple half-moon and leading up to individually pleated dumplings. They all taste truly delicious, so begin by trying the folds you feel comfortable with and moving up from there.
If you’re folding dumplings at home, you’ll want to keep your wrappers moist under a damp paper towel. When wrappers dry out, they’re much harder to fold, so this will ensure that each of your dumplings is smooth and beautiful.
The Best Easy Dumplings You Can Make at Home
Not sure where to start? Don’t worry. There are many easy and delicious dumpling recipes you can try out today and options to fit your dietary needs. Here are just a few dishes you won’t want to miss.
Sweet Potato Pork Dumplings
Steamed dumplings are one of the most iconic and delicious dumpling dishes, but these sweet potato pork dumplings take them to the next level. In addition to tasting absolutely amazing, the two-toned orange and white dough is strikingly beautiful, and adds a sweet, peppery taste to your dumplings.
A few basic ingredients are required for the dough, including flour, water, salt, and peppers. For the filling, the recipe calls for pork, sweet potatoes, garlic, ginger, and brown sugar. We also recommend using some of our Sichuan Chili Crisp for that perfect amount of heat.
There are so many delicious vegetarian and vegan Chinese food recipes, and dumplings offer an excellent opportunity for experimenting and utilizing your favorite fillings. For vegetarian dumplings that even the meat-eaters in your family are sure to love, pick your favorite vegetables and thinly chop or shred them, before beginning the stir-frying process.
Vegetarian dumplings are an excellent way to test out your favorite hot sauces and spicy oil flavors. Add ginger, garlic, pepper, and onions for flavors that can’t be beat.
Dumplings don’t usually require animal by-products to create. You should always check your labels to be certain that your dish won’t have any hidden ingredients, but dumplings make for an easy and delicious vegan meal with few substitutions required.
Shrimp dumplings feel like a delicacy, but they’re so easy to make at home, and you can add in your favorite spices and flavors for a dish that really feels like your own. Some chefs add pork to their shrimp filling, and others mix in delicious vegetables for a sweet or savory snap.
You’ll need coarsely chopped shrimp, scallions, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil, along with a few other pantry staples, for a shrimp recipe that you’ll want to continue coming back to. Mix up a batch of your favorite dipping sauce with the spices and oils available here at Fly By Jing.
Dumplings, potstickers, and wontons are some of the most varied and delicious comfort food dishes in Chinese cuisine. You can create appetizers, soup dishes, and main courses for meals with loved ones in many unique ways, and each new dish is sure to delight.
They have beautiful histories, and when you engage with these classic recipes, you can respect and appreciate where they have come from while putting your own spin on great flavors—all with the help of our spices and the ingredients you already have in your pantry at home.
Getting started is easy, so check out some of the dumpling recipes available here on Fly By Jing and began creating your own dumpings, potstickers, and wontons at home today.