Making dumplings and memories

I am part of the first generation born in the US (ABC - American Born Chinese) which means between me and my parents, there is quite a wide generation gap which extends to even the food that we eat.  While my sister and I were growing up, we ate Chinese food at home - occasionally with spaghetti and meatballs thrown into the mix.  However unlike most other ABCs I know, I do not prefer eating Chinese food over other types of cuisines and prefer even less eating Americanized Chinese food.  The sweet and salty combination flavor palate does not agree with me nor does the stir fry nature of a PF Chang’s or Panda Express offering.  As a consequence, I don’t get homesick for Chinese home cooking nor have I ever wanted to learn to make the recipes that my parents cook at home, even though my sister and other extended family members hound my parents for their recipes.

Perhaps it’s nostalgia or maybe because I was surfing the internet and it was coming on Chinese New Year, but a picture of cream and green pillowy potstickers grabbed my attention.  I do like dumplings, potstickers, xiao long bao.  For some reason those members of Chinese cuisine, I can get behind.  Cue the dream sequence music.

When we were little kids, my mom would spend afternoons painstakingly filling and freezing homemade dumplings.  In my child brain, they would take the entire day to assemble, even though she tried to speed up the process by using store bought wrappers.  She’d pull me and my sister into her assembly line to make the process go faster, even though our small hands were not nearly as deft as hers.  It must have taken close to the amount of time I remembered, as my mom very quickly moved on to buying premade frozen dumplings.

Perhaps as a challenge to truly figure out the labor involved and to test the accuracy of my memory from back when I was table-high, I decided to make these vegetarian potstickers for Chinese New Year - everything from scratch including the wrappers.  I got Bryan involved, and we ended up making a pork version as well.  The novelty of making Chinese food - again not something I do very often - sustained us through a few hours of rolling, filling, and freezing.  It helped having something mindless play on the TV in the background as well.  There is something soothing and zen-like about falling into the rhythm of rolling out the wrappers, stuffing the dumplings, and carefully folding them into their gold ingot shapes.  It’s a repetitive task that you can talk over, also ending up with a delicious end product.

Homemade vegetarian potstickers by yours truly
We took a bag over to my parents’ house two weekends ago as a surprise, and they devoured them in one day.  Subsequently, my mom invited me over this past weekend to make some more and to learn her rolling and folding technique, which she assured me was much faster and efficient.  So it was that with my dad’s assistance, in less than an hour we speedily turned out enough filling for 100 dumplings.

Dumpling party with the folks
Listening to my parents’ food prep tips and being able to contribute some of my own made for a different level of interaction with my parents.  We interacted much more as peers, actively listening and learning from each other.  In addition, being able to take something that we both have experience doing and capitalizing upon both methods resulted in a much better end product - aka better tasting dumplings - than we both had made individually.  After we dusted the flour off our hands and were sitting around the kitchen table, sampling some of our wares, I was also able to take part in one of the most candid conversations that I have had with my parents, on both sides.  If it takes making more Chinese food together to do that, count me in.

Also separately, if you’re interested in making some dumplings of your own or throwing a dumpling making party (fun and food for everyone), here are a few tips to follow:

Let the dough for the wrappers rest for more than 30 minutes.  It makes it fluffier / more pliable.

Liberally dust your rolling surface with flour.  This probably applies to more than just dumpling wrappers but I’m a slow learner and just picking up on this.

Use the food processor in chopping most of the ingredients for the filling but not all of them.  You still want some pieces to be large enough to have substantial mouthfeel.

Add more than one egg into the filling as a binding agent so that it holds together in the cooking process.


  1. What an awesome bonding experience with your parents! And those potstickers look delish 😍

    I recently helped my dad out with a resume and my mom has taken to talking through horsekeeping/training things with me -- getting to share my experiences on a more level platform (instead of always being the student) is kind of exhilarating!

  2. In high school I did a two week long Chinese camp with my sister. It wasn't my first choice of activities but my mom didn't want my sister doing it alone so she signed me up too. The morning was language (I was TERRIBLE at that portion and it didn't help that I ended up in the intermediate class) but the afternoon was cultural which I loved. One afternoon we made dumplings and they were delicious. The only phrase I can remember from the camp was "let's make dumplings."

  3. I'm jealous about the dumplings, but really happy you and your parents got to experience a day like that. I don't know what it is about working together that way that opens us up, but it is nice to get to see each other (and treat each other) as peers. Except that one time my dad way, way overshared--but the good outweighs the creepy.

    Chinese food was a significant portion of my comfort food rotation, even though I never had it as a child. But that stopped when my favorite Chinese restaurant closed. My search for a replacement failed. I need to try again, widen the search area.

  4. Good Chinese food is something that San Diego lacks heavily and I miss my favorite hole in the wall places in Oakland.

    1. Oooo yeah the Bay Area has some pretty good Chinese food

  5. What a beautiful story!! I'm glad that my recipe inspired you to make dumplings from scratch, and I LOVE your bonding experience with your parents which makes me homesick. Looking forward to seeing my parents in the near future and making dumplings with them, just like what I did as a child. Wei @ Red House Spice

  6. Aaaaaaw...such a sweet post, Rooth:) Nothing like food to bring a family closer, you know? And yay for making those awesome vegetarian dumplings. My SIL makes the regular ones only once a year coz she said they're too laborious. In Filipino cuisine, we have this dish called lumpia which is kinda like fried dumplings, and I remember my mom making those but I don't remember helping her though:P

  7. This is such a beautiful story! I love that cooking created such a wonderful bonding experience! I definitely enjoy cooking with my mom and learning how to create the Japanese dishes she used to make when I was a kid. Great job on the dumplings...they look so delicious!

  8. I remember my mom making dumplings as well and I have made some of my own, but not recently. I must do it again. I never made my own wrappers but would love to. I love getting cooking advice/tips/secrets from my parents. :)

  9. Food is such a wonderful way to connect to our heritage. It's amazing that you were able to recreate the whole process from your memories. My husband and I both cannot get enough of the food we grew up with though I like to put a modern spin on my Chinese food. We usually make a huge batch of dumplings twice a year but I've never attempted to make wrappers from scratch.


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