Pot-stickers, Gyoza, Mantu, Dumplings: The bite sized delights that cross cultures

Prawn Dumplings/Pot Stickers

Postickers

During my childhood, my parents were keen to ensure my siblings and I retained our culture, mother tongue and heritage. As second generation migrants living in the UK there was always a need to balance my two identities; though not without the occasional volcanic eruption!

I attended a Sunday supplementary school to learn to read and write Chinese. This took place from 1-3pm each week and was attended by hundreds of children just like me, my sister and my cousins. A regular ritual for my family was to go to China Town and at 12pm for a dim sum lunch before we then rushed over to school. In Hong Kong, dim sum is traditionally served throughout the day.From early in the morning for breakfast right through to late afternoon for late lunches. ‘Dim Sum’ (點心) translated means ‘Touch of the Heart’.  If you’ve read my ‘About’ page, you’ll know that my name is Sam (心) so you’ll see that I have a natural affinity to this delicious cuisine!

Postickers

Prawn Potstickers

Dim Sum is sometimes described as ‘Chinese Tapas’. You get lots of small dishes served in the middle of the table for all to share. The great things about Dim Sum is that the more people you have around the table, the more variety you can order. It’s a great way to have a lazy lunch with your friends, ordering as you go, washed down with plenty of jasmine tea.

Pot-sticker, Gyoza, Mantu, Dumplings etc. come in many guises. It’s an amazing food that many cultures and countries have their own versions of. Basically a disk of dough stuffed with some form of meat or vegetable filling, then folded and sealed. They can be steamed, boiled, pan-fried or deep fried. The possibilities are endless!

I regularly use shop bought dumpling pastry when I’m making them at home. They are fairly cheap and very convenient! In the early days of our relationship my partner wanted to show off the dishes from his home country (Afghanistan) and taught me how to make ‘Mantu’ and ‘Aushak’. Aushak are basically a dumpling filled with cooked leeks/scallions/spring onions, and boiled or steamed. Mantu are a meat version made with ground or minced lamb/beef. They are then served with a meaty or lentil based sauce. It seems that these Afghan dumplings were brought to the country by Mongolian horsemen when they were invading the country. Afghans have adapted the dumplings and added spices and stronger flavours to suit the Central Asian palate. A very different way of serving dumplings to the basic Chinese pot-stickers that are served plain with a light dipping sauce.

Afghan Mantu

Afghan Mantu

Dumpling making is time consuming but worth the effort. So today I have made a big batch. I’ve decided to try and make my own dumpling dough and turned to Christine again for her wise advice: Home made dumpling wrappers.

From one lot of dumpling dough I made three varieties: Prawn and shitake mushroom pot-stickers, Aushak, and Banana gyoza. This was mainly to test out the dough to see what kind of cooking methods it will stand up to.

The pot-stickers were fantastic! For the filling, I processed raw prawns/shrimp with rehydrated shitake mushrooms and added sesame oil, salt and pepper to taste. I also added some cornflour to help soak up some of the juice during the cooking process.

For the Aushak I made the filling, wrapped them, then stuck them in the freezer on a baking sheet for another time.

The banana gyoza were stuffed with mashed banana then deep fried. The pastry didn’t like the wet banana much as a couple of them burst during cooking. However, served with a coconut caramel recipe that I found, they were to die for! For one gyoza I also added a spoonful of Nutella (yum!) but found the overall taste to be too sweet and sickly. I think next time I’m going to add a little sea salt to the caramel to balance out the flavours a little.

Banana Gyoza

Banana Gyoza

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The simple pineapple bun

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

During my childhood, my parents bought baked Chinese goods from ‘Ho’s bakery’ in Manchester’s China Town. Ho’s is a long standing institution that has brought Hong Kong bakery to the Chinese migrants who wanted a little taste of what they were missing from home.

‘Chinese’ and ‘English’ oven baked breads are very different. Chinese bread is usually very light and soft in texture, usually on the sweet side and often enveloping finely chopped cooked meat or delicate sweet fillings. Kind of like a ready made sandwich. English breads need to be sturdier so they can be sliced to hold a decent amount of filling or torn to be dipped into a hearty soup without it disintegrating.

Chinese buns are usually eaten warm for breakfast. In Hong Kong, small bakeries can be found everywhere offering quick and tasty breakfasts for people rushing to work in the non-stop crowded city. In England this Chinese bread was a tasty Sunday treat that my dad would pick up on his way home from replenishing stock for the restaurant after a busy Saturday of trading.

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

I tried baking bread for the first time at the age of 24, in a small village called Ololosokwan in Northern Tanzania. I was on my ‘gap year’ trying, and failing, to save the world with no access to fresh produce for weeks at a time. Luckily I wasn’t alone! In the next house was an Irish man who was working at the local school and had asked his son to email him a basic bread recipe. Before this it had never occurred to me to do anything apart from grab a loaf of bread off the supermarket shelf. We didn’t have that luxury in Ololosokwan! The bread wasn’t amazing as we didn’t actually have the right flour, but it was was bread none the less. And more importantly, it was a reminder of home!

I didn’t try and make bread again for a few years and when I did I always got tired of the whole kneading process so my ‘bread’ was usually disappointing. I have had some successes, but mostly very dense and unappetising results. One day I looked up how to make Chinese style bread and found a recipe online. It was truly inspired and the results have been amazing!

Pineapple buns

Pineapple buns

For my first blog, I am recreating a delicious typical Chinese delight called a ‘pineapple bun’ or ‘菠蘿包’ in Cantonese. They contain no pineapple, but end up looking a little like the outside of one and have a similar texture to brioche. They are divine!  I’ve made these buns by hand before but it is very time consuming and messy as the dough is very wet and difficult to work with, hence the reason I don’t make them very often! This time I have used a bread maker to do the hard work for me.

This recipe shows you how to make the basic Chinese white bread that it used for most recipes, and as you can see it doesn’t only use the traditional ‘fast action’ yeast that is usually found in western bread recipes. The Tangzhong Method, or ‘湯種’, is the secret to the pillowy soft buns sold in bakeries such as Ho’s to this day! Thank you Christine, you are amazing! http://en.christinesrecipes.com/2010/03/japanese-style-bacon-and-cheese-bread.html

For the crunchy topping: http://www.pigpigscorner.com/2011/01/pineapple-bun-bo-luo-bao-by-christines.html

If you’ve never had one, please try it! It’s perfect with a cup of strong English tea!

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns

Hong Kong Pineapple Buns