Classic dumplings, whether it’s the pork and shrimp dumplings at Z & Y Bistro or the ones from your Mom’s cooking… are more than great tasting fare. This favorite comfort food weaves itself deeply into the entire Chinese culture. It is an integral part of holidays, traditions, and even superstitions.
They are more than pieces of dough with a filling. Chinese dumplings are visible, tasty signs that illustrate essential parts of Chinese culture. The crescent-shaped dumplings served during Lunar New Year symbolize the brightness of the moon and the promise of a bright and prosperous year ahead.
Next time you enjoy a meal of Chinese dumplings, realize it’s more than having a great meal. You are participating in a cultural experience that is centuries old.
The Chinese Lunar New Year, and its lead-up called the Spring Festival, features dumplings in all shapes and sizes. Extended families get together to share a meal, reminisce and reconnect.
Of course, a big get-together means a lot of food. Several cooks from different parts of the family join up to make the dough, prepare the fillings, wrap them up and cook them. It’s a time to gossip, catch up and bond.
To feed a crowd, big platters with a range of dumplings are set out together. Like so much in Chinese culture and cooking it also has a symbolic meaning. Combining the different dumplings signifies togetherness and completeness. Eat them and you increase your chances for successful teamwork and family togetherness in the months to come.
If you bite down on a gold coin in your New Year dumpling, great wealth will be yours in the coming months. At least that’s the tradition. A scrumptious dumpling and 12 months of prosperity—it doesn’t get much better than that.
Yellow-tinged dumplings stand for the gold currency used centuries ago in China. By eating them, you put yourself in alignment with wealth and an affluent future.
It’s not just the filling. The names of assorted dumplings are also part of the cultural experience. Words pronounced the same can actually have different meanings. Playing with words, diners can talk about dumplings and good wishes at the same time. For example, peanuts refer to a specific type of dumpling, but it also means health and continuous growth.
Dumplings help a Chinese-Canadian mom handle the angst of an empty nest a recent Pixar short film, Bao. Directed by Domee Shi, the short film draws on her experience as the daughter of immigrants and her family’s life in Canada. She actually had her mother come to the movie set twice to conduct dumpling-making lessons for the crew.
As Shi pointed out, “Said one way, bao … means steam bun. … And said another way, it means precious or a treasure.” The difference is at the heart of Bao, and a gentle, entertaining look at how pervasive this food is to the Chinese experience.
The next time you enjoy a delectable meal of Chinese dumplings, consider that you are participating in Chinese culture at one of its most basic levels—food.