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Our Guide to Popular Chinese Dumplings

If you love dim sum, you’ll love these traditional styles of dumplings.

Everyone in the United States is talking about going out for Dim sum. Dim sum is a Cantonese meal usually eaten for brunch in China, consisting of many small plates, like the Chinese version of tapas or mezze.

Chinese Steamed Dumpling

There are all sorts of dishes included in dim sum, but the most common are many types of Chinese dumplings served on communal plates or steamers.

Dim sum is the perfect meal for a family or group of friends because you can order many different things to try, and everyone gets a bite. 

In this article, I’ll take you through some of the most common Chinese dumplings that appear in dim sum and sometimes on their own.

Types of Chinese Dumplings 

Some dumplings on the list are common in American Chinese restaurants while some are traditional Chinese cuisine, but as we go down the list, you’ll probably learn something new! 


Wontons

Wontons are the most famous Chinese dumpling in the United States.

They have been a staple of American Chinese restaurants since the 1950s, especially in the ever-popular wonton soup. 

Wontons feature in all types of Chinese cuisine, particularly Cantonese and Shanghainese.

The Cantonese style is the most common in the USA because Cantonese immigrants opened most Chinese restaurants in the States.

Wontons are made in the palm of a hand using a square dough wrapper. Filling, commonly minced pork, is placed in the center, and the dumpling is formed by pinching the edges with wet fingers.

The dumplings are then boiled or pan-fried. 


Xiao Long Bao

Xiao long bao is a small, steamed bun that gets its name from the bamboo steaming basket it gets prepared in.

In the United States, many people know Xiao Long Bao as “soup dumplings,” although this is only one type of this versatile bun. 

Most of the eight traditions of Chinese cuisine have a variation of this bun, but the well-known xiao long bao is part of the Jiangsu cuisine and dates back to the Song Dynasty. 

These buns can be made with either leavened or unleavened dough and usually have minced pork and meat jelly filling.

Once the buns come out of the steaming basket, the jelly melts, creating a soup that stays inside the bun that’s perfect for getting slurped out. 


Bao Zi

Bao zi is another type of steamed bun made with yeast-leavened flour.

They are common throughout China as well as Indonesia. Bao zi is commonly referred to as bao buns or simply “bao” in the United States. 

They have recently become massively popular, especially in bigger American cities. Pixar even made a beloved animated short about these delicious dumplings.

Bao generally comes in two sizes. The larger ones are usually served individually as a to-go snack, while the smaller ones are often appetizers to a meal at a sit-down restaurant. 

Bao can have various ingredients in its stuffing, and many are vegetarian. Their dough is thick and fluffy and will melt in your mouth.

Some bao buns get sealed and filled, while others get cut in half with the filling between the two sides. 


Har Gow

Har gow is a traditional Cantonese dumpling served as part of a dim sum meal.

They are small, delicate dumplings with thin skins that use tapioca flour and are traditionally filled with shrimp.

The words “har gow” also means “wedding dress” in Cantonese. The dumplings share this name because of the pleated shape that resembles the skirt of traditional Cantonese bridal wear. 

Har gow is considered one of “the four heavenly kings” of Cantonese cuisine (meaning that you shouldn’t miss out on these), along with siu mai, char sui bao, and egg tarts. 


Jiao Zi

Jiao zi is another classic type of dumpling popular in the United States.

They are often referred to as “potstickers” in American Chinese restaurants. These dumplings have a thin, chewy dough folded into the shape of a sycee, or ancient Chinese currency. 

Jiao zi can be either steamed or pan-fried and have many common fillings. Many Chinese restaurants in the USA will have a vegetarian version and one filled with pork or shrimp.

In Northern China, these dumplings traditionally feature during the Chinese New Year. You’ll often see them served with black vinegar and sesame oil dipping sauce. 


Siu Mai

Along with har gow, siu mai is a dim sum Cantonese dumpling that makes up one part of “the four heavenly kings.”

Siu mai are small dumplings filled with ground pork, shrimp, and mushrooms and then shaped in elaborately decorative presentations. 

Siu mai is one of the most popular dumplings and is common in all parts of East Asia and the Western world. Some of these include the Uyghur, Mongolian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese siu mai.

They are most common in Japan and often get served at Japanese restaurants in America.

This variety also goes by the name of shrimp shumai and, as the name suggests, contains shrimp as the primary ingredient. 


Ham Sui Gok

Ham sui gok is another popular Cantonese dumpling served as part of a dim sum meal.

They are oval-shaped buns made of fried glutenous rice flour and stuffed with sweet and savory pulled pork.

Ham sui gok are characterized by their chewy, pillowy texture, almost like mochi, which uses the same type of flour.

They are deep fried and have a golden, slightly crispy crust outside the fluffy interior.

The filling is usually made from pork belly or pulled pork loin and flavored with garlic and oyster sauce.

A salty soy sauce-based dipping sauce often accompanies these delicious dumplings.

This sauce counteracts the sweet undertones in the dumplings, creating the umami flavor for which Cantonese food is known.


Sheng Jian Bao

Sheng jian bao, also known as Shenjian Mantou, is a Shanghainese dumpling similar to the xiao long bao discussed above.

These dumplings are small and typically filled with ground pork and gelatine that dissolves into a soup once the dumpling is steamed. 

Unlike other soup dumplings, sheng jian bao gets pan-fried after it’s steamed, giving them a crispy bottom while maintaining their chewy tops.

Sheng jian bao has been among the most common breakfast foods for over 100 years in Shanghai. 


Tang Yuan

Tang yuan is the only sweet dumpling on our list. It is a traditional Chinese dessert made of glutinous rice flour that’s shaped into small balls and eaten in sweet broth or syrup.

The dumplings often have fillings such as red bean paste, custard, or black sesame sugar paste.

These dumplings are a celebratory dessert, traditionally eaten during the Lantern Festival, Chinese New Year, and the winter solstice. 

The name is a homophone for union or bringing two people together. Because of this, tang yuan is also a traditional wedding dessert.

At weddings, Tang yuan will sometimes get served with savory fillings before the meal and with sweet fillings as a dessert.


Types of Chinese Dumplings 

  1. Wontons
  2. Xiao Long Bao
  3. Bao Zi
  4. Har Gow
  5. Jiao Zi
  6. Siu Mai
  7. Ham Sui Gok
  8. Sheng Jian Bao
  9. Tang Yuan

Final Thoughts

In this article, I’ve introduced you to some of the most popular types of Chinese dumplings. Many of these dumplings traditionally get served with dim sum, but you can enjoy all of them on their own. 

From fluffy and slightly sweet bao to delicate siu mai, Chinese cuisine has mastered the art of dumplings. You can find any flavor combination or texture within these dumpling wrappers; each one is more delectable than the last. 

Now, all that’s left to do is head to your favorite dim sum restaurant or the frozen food section in grocery stores that stock these beauties and try some out! Let us know which one is your favorite in the comments below. 

Check out other tasty Asian cuisines that feature dumplings, like the best Vietnamese restaurants in America!

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  1. I believe a long lost history of dim sum should be mentioned. These delicious buns and dumplings were part of the original road food on Marco Polo’s Silk Road. Quite possibly, the BBQ pork bun was part of the offering as it is easily made and, like a burger, was a convenient item to eat and ride a camel, horse, cart, etc. AND when one reached major cities, even more variety was offered like shrimp dumplings as those were enjoyed more widely and prior to the establishment of the Silk Road. I write this for having Dim sum recognized as one of the first road food.

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.