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Global Eats!: Delicious dumplings

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Graphic by Karthika Nambiar / Staff

Global Eats investigates different cultural histories and stories of the foods we eat today. Readers taste new foods from all over the world through Global Eats’ unique perspective of foods that connect us all!

Dumplings Across the Globe

The dumpling world changed in 1958 when Bing-Yi Yang, an immigrant who moved to Taiwan from China, opened his own cooking oil store and used the other half of his store space to make and sell xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings. He called his store Din Tai Fung, marking the beginning of the extremely popular restaurant chain specializing in the famous dumplings. Since Din Tai Fung’s extreme success across the world from Japan to the U.S. to the United Kingdom and beyond, the popularity of the xiaolongbao has also grown. But before Din Tai Fung restaurants could spread its influence, and before Yang even opened the doors of his half-oil-store-half-restaurant, the dumpling had already proven to be a staple food in many parts of the world. 

Speculated to have originated from the Mongols within either Siberia or Ural of Russia, pelmeni (Пельмени in Russian) were a staple in the diet of many Siberian hunters. Pelmeni, named after pel’n’an’ (пельнянь), the Finnic Komi and Udmurt word for “ear bread,” were a convenient way for indigenous peoples of Eastern Europe to carry their food along with them. The dumplings stayed frozen in the cold, preserving them for long journeys, and were enjoyed either plain or with a light broth. 

Today, filled with either ground beef or pork and seasonings such as paprika and black pepper, pelmeni are enjoyed with sour cream, butter and other toppings by Russians, Ukrainians, Poles and many other Eastern European groups.

The universal definition of a dumpling is that it must be a filled and cooked dough, describing the pelmeni perfectly. However, the American chicken and dumpling is a far cry from that definition. Originating from the American South, chicken and dumplings are dollops of dough and chicken boiled in chicken broth, creating a unique and delicious dish. 

Some say the dish actually came from the Antebellum South or was used to stretch food during the Great Depression, but many Southerners say otherwise. They recall that this recipe has been around for longer than many realize, even with similar recipes dating back to pre-American colonization, and is more a representation of Southern ingenuity than a way to create a cheap meal.

Of course, it’s hard to talk about the many varieties of dumplings without mentioning the xiaolongbao (小籠包 in Chinese), or “little-basket-bun.” Earlier, I mentioned the success of Din Tai Fung, a popular restaurant that serves many types of Taiwanese dumplings, but the xiaolongbao has been popular in Taiwan and China since the 19th century. As a form of tangbao (soup bun), different forms of xiaolongbao have existed, whether from Nanxiang, Shanghai or Changzhou, Jiangsu Province. The two differ in taste, xiaolongbao being sweeter and smaller than the flat guantangbao, but both are equally delicious examples of dumplings within East Asia. 

Dumplings are a food so popular that there are even more versions of them across the globe. So many exist, such as tamales from Mesoamerica, kenkey from Ghana and khinkali from Georgia, that it would be hard to describe every version in the world. From the short list compiled here, I hope you find a new food you’d like to try yourself!

Try Some Dumplings for Yourself!

Check out some of these Orange County locations to try some delicious dumplings!

Paradise Dynasty

5.0 miles from UCI – 3333 South Bristol Street, BLM 1 Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Paradise Dynasty has a plethora of xiaolongbao to choose from, including the signature pork filling and original chicken filling, but also nontraditional versions such as cheese, kimchi and black truffle. From their menu, I especially enjoyed their Signature Original Xiaolongbao, a dumpling bursting with sweet flavor (and soup!) that warms your mouth, and their Prawn and Kurobuta Pork Wonton in Chili Oil was perfect with its delicious sauce and light spice. The Salted Egg Yolk Custard Xiaolongbao Is the perfect way to end your meal with a salty and sweet dessert.

Photo by Corinna Chin / Staff

Mad Dumplings

0.3 miles walking from UCI – 4213 Campus Drive P166D Irvine CA 92612

Mad Dumplings offers an Asian fusion twist on the traditional jiaozi. Some of their most interesting variations include The Longanisa Dumpling, Meatball Mozz Dumplings and The Hottie Fried Chicken Dumplings. The restaurant is a short walk from campus, stationed near ShareTea at the University Center. Though the wait may be long (I waited around 30 minutes after ordering), it might be the perfect opportunity to try some of the most unique dumplings in Orange County. I ordered The Hottie Fried Chicken Dumplings, which are filled with chicken and pepperjack cheese and dipped in chili oil. The dumpling was crispy and slightly bitter with gooey cheese inside and came with a delicious dipping sauce that reminded me of buffalo sauce. It was a little too spicy for me, but definitely perfect for any lover of Nashville Fried Chicken! I also tried The OG Dumplings, which are more traditional-style dumplings filled with pork and Chinese chives. Both came with their own sauces for dipping and were perfect for a quick lunch between classes.

Photo by Corinna Chin / Staff

Trader Joe’s

0.3 miles walking from UCI – 4225 Campus Dr, Irvine, CA 92612

Trader Joe’s offers many cheap dumpling options for the newest dumpling enjoyer, from samosas (which some consider to be dumplings) to soup dumplings and gyoza. I tried their Steamed Pork and Ginger Soup Dumplings, which are a cheap alternative to the more expensive Paradise Dynasty xiaolongbao, at around $3.50 versus $10 for six pieces! Delicious and savory, the juicy dumplings are perfect for a special snack or enjoyed with a dipping sauce. I especially like eating my soup dumplings with Chinkiang vinegar and julienned ginger. Unfortunately, the Trader Joe’s Steamed Chicken Soup Dumplings have been recalled for products marked best by March 7, 2025, and containing the lot codes C1-1 or C1-2. Please do NOT eat dumplings labeled with those codes, and return them to your nearest Trader Joe’s for a refund.

Photo by Corinna Chin / Staff

Photo by Corinna Chin / Staff

Corinna Chin is a first-year literary journalism major at UCI with a strong interest in food and its cultural connotations. 
Corinna Chin is an Arts & Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at corinnac@uci.edu.