Chinese dumplings are a universe unto themselves, and it can be difficult for Westerners to navigate because so many types of dumplings are known by various different names—its Szechuan name, its Cantonese name, and its pinyin or romanized name. Adding to the confusion, each name can have different spellings.
But, in general, there are two broad categories of Chinese dumplings: gao, or crescent-shaped dumplings; and bao, or round, purse-shaped dumplings.
Within these categories, there are nearly endless variations, depending on the type of wrapper (wheat and rice are the most common), what type of filling is used, and whether the dumpling is boiled, steamed, or fried.
Here's a summary of the most common types of Chinese dumplings.
01 of 07
Jiaozi (pronounced "jow-zee") are perhaps the most common type of Chinese dumpling. Crescent-shaped and formed with an opaque wrapper made from wheat dough, jiaozi are usually filled with ground pork, cabbage, and scallions, and served with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil.
The name jiaozi refers to this type of dumpling generically, although jiaozi might be referred to as shui jiao, if boiled; zheng jiao, if steamed; and guo tie or jian jiao, if pan-fried. These last are what are commonly known as potstickers.
02 of 07
Siu mai (pronounced "shoo-my") is an open-topped, round basket-shaped dumpling made with a thin wrapper of wheat dough. As with most styles of Chinese dumplings, variations on siu mai abound throughout China as well as other regions of Asia. But the traditional Cantonese siu mai are made with a filling of ground pork and shrimp, along with other ingredients such as mushroom, ginger, and green onions.
Siu mai are characteristically topped with an orange dot of fish roe or carrot (or sometimes a green dot made with a single pea), and prepared by steaming in a bamboo steamer basket.
03 of 07
Har gao (pronounced "ha-gow") is an oval- or crescent-shaped dumpling made with a translucent wrapper of wheat and tapioca starch, filled with shrimp, pork fat, and bamboo shoots, and served steamed. Har gao wrappers are characteristically shaped to feature seven to 10 pleats on the exterior, and the blend of starches in the wrapper itself is formulated to produce a smooth and tender, yet stretchy consistency. When steamed, the pork fat liquefies, giving a dumpling a firm (the shrimp should be cooked through without being tough or rubbery), yet juicy bite.
04 of 07
Xiao Long Bao
Sometimes called "soup dumplings," xiao long bao are a round, purse-shaped dumpling made of a relatively thick (thicker and doughier than jiaozi, for instance) wheat wrapper, which is crimped on the top. Although it's called a soup dumpling, xiao long bao are not actually filled with soup. Rather, they're filled with chopped cooked pork (and sometimes crab) along with plenty of collagen-rich pork trimmings. When steamed, the collagen melts and turns to liquefied gelatin, forming what is essentially an extremely rich and savory broth. Like har gao and siu mai, xiao long bao are regularly served as part of the traditional Chinese dim sum brunch.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Sheng Jian Bao
Sheng jian bao are closely related to xian long bao. Typically made with the same filling of pork and seafood along with jellified broth, which liquefies when heated, the dough is slightly thicker than xiao long bao and garnished with sesame oil and chopped scallions. Unlike xiao long bao, however, sheng jian bao are cooked in a skillet partially filled with water. The water steams the dumplings, and as it evaporates, the dry skillet gives the bottoms of the dumplings a golden-brown, crunchy texture. Besides the traditional pork, some versions can contain chicken, shrimp, or crab.
06 of 07
Bao zi is the general category for dumplings made with a thick, wheat dough resembling a bun. One common version of bao zi are the barbecued pork-filled buns known as char siu bao. Other variations include the tangbaozi, which, like the sheng jiang bao and xian long bao, is filled with broth that is actually drunk through a straw; doushabao, which is filled with sweet red bean paste; and naihuangbao, filled with a sweet yellow custard. Nontraditional variations include pineapple, glazed mushroom, tofu, curried chicken, and bulgogi beef.
07 of 07
Wontons are another generic category of Chinese dumplings, which can be prepared in all kinds of ways depending on their filling and whether they're prepared by boiling, steaming, or frying. But a typical wonton is prepared using a square sheet of dough made from wheat flour, egg, and water (similar to Italian ravioli, but somewhat thinner), with a scoop of filling placed on the center of the square and the dough then sealed up in some manner, either by folding, crimping, or even tying the bundle up with a chive shoot. Ground pork and shrimp are typical fillings, although as with all Chinese dumplings, traditional and nontraditional variations abound depending on the region. Boiled wontons are popular and are served in a rich broth or soup. Japanese ground beef wontons are fried.