April 30, 2014

Chinese dumplings for the Chinese New Year


Chinese dumplings – JiaoZi – in Taipei

Take a special holiday, bring a group of friends together, add passion for food, a splash of beer and a big table and you can do it. 

In January I took the train from Taichung -台中- to Taipei -台北 – to go and visit my friends. It was a chilly day, he who says Taiwan is always warm has not visited in January. When I went up, it was shortly before the Chinese new year, which follows the moon and hence varies a little from year to year, compared to our western calendar.
This year the old year ended in the end of January and we stepped in to the new year, the Year of the Horse – but before we could do that, we wanted to do something special.

We wanted to cook together. 

And we decided to make dumplings; But not just any type of dumplings, we were going for Jiaozi, 餃子, the type of dumpling, usually filled with pork and leek, and made of wheat, a dumpling so common in the Beijing area for New Years. It is a very nice traditions, a nice tradition that comes from China, not Taiwan, but there is nothing wrong with adopting nice food traditions from other countries, as long as the food is good – I did my best when I lived in Germany to teach my international friends the concept of Swedish pea-soup followed by pancakes for dessert on Thursdays, an old Swedish tradition.
Not all could be boiled... 

We invited a nice little group together, got our little rolling pins, set the dough, and made the filling. 
My friend with Taiwanese roots, who moved to Taiwan in November, got the recipe from someone who had contacts, a relative or close friend in China, who, very wisely, once advised my friend that he should learn to cook – knowing how to cook is a sure way to impress women.... Nowadays my friend doesn't have to impress any women, he has a wonderful girlfriend from Europe, a wonderful girlfriend who is the one who taught us the tradition to make dumplings, jiaozi, for New Years – it's funny how you learn Beijing traditions in Taiwan via a European.

The trick with Jiaozi is to roll them really thin but to keep the middle bit slightly thicker – and then to close them properly. The jiaozis are normally cooked in boiling water, and if the dumpling doesn't close up properly, the result will be messy – and therefore we always end up – because we have done this before – frying some dumplings in the frying pan.

To make the dumpling making more efficient we split the tasks between us. The filling is done earlier in the day, and so is the dough, but in the afternoon of the dumpling making day we get together, and someone cuts little pieces of dough, two people roll out the little pieces into rounds, flat "pancakes" (about 5 cm diameter), another person adds filling to the dumplings and closes them up – and then, of course, we have the cooking as well.


There are really only two things that are absolutely essential: Close the jiaozi properly, as already mentioned, and don't let the already made but not yet cooked jiaozi touch, because if they do, they will get stuck together, and the perfectly closed dumpling will break...

Making food together is always a great experience, as it bring people together, but of course, making food together to celebrate something special is – you guessed it – even more special.

There are few things I enjoy as much as cooking and eating together with good friends!



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