Welcome-to-Sydney Dumplings

Little bundles of love. For some, it’s their newborn bub. For others, it’s a puppy in their lap. For me, it’s little bundles of stuffed pastry.

I’m not too sure how or when or why, but some time ago, I kind of butchered the traditional wonton and created something (in my unbiased eyes), equally delicious. Sure, the humble wonton has survived around 14 centuries on this planet since it’s beginnings in China, but surely that means it’s time for a revamp. Reinventing a centuries old classic is not to be taken lightly, which is why I have saved it for a special occasion.

From outback Australia where this blog began, Dietitian on a Mission has followed me back home to Multicultural Melbourne and more recently to Sensational Sydney. Never being to this city before, Foodie-me immediately got excited at thoughts of the birthplace of Gelato Messina, Zumbo’s macarons, Jamie’s Italian and the famous Fishmarkets. Foodie-me got even more excited when our new home happened to be in one of Sydney’s highly multicultural suburbs, with significantly more people born overseas compared to Sydney’s average. Cue authentic Asian supermarkets, Middle Eastern bakeries and Italian deli’s. 

Despite the multicultural smorgasbord, Asian dumpling places outnumber all other shops 4:1. This excites me greatly, as I’m getting a crash course in Chinese dumplings. Wearing my dietitian hat, here is a summary of what I’ve learnt:

Xiaolongbao are the gorgeous little dumplings which explode beautifully with soup when bit into. Just like the age old question, how does the toothpaste get in the tube?, how does the soup get in the dumpling? Here’s the secret: When filling the dumplings with the standard meat filling, they add a jelly like substance made from meat stock and gelatin (gelatin is made from proteins from the collagen extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals – sexy). When the dumplings cook, the heat causes the jelly melts to form the soup. The chemistry behind it takes the romance somewhat away, but aren’t you glad you asked? 

Wontons are made from a much thinner pastry of flour, water, and sometimes egg, which allows for a greater amount of nutritious filling with less of the less nutritious outside. Served in soup, they are quite low in fat, however they can sometimes be deep fried. Let’s bring back the high school maths. When Sally fries her wontons, each one absorbs 1 tablespoon of oil and the kilojoule content increases by 340kJ (the amount of energy in one slice of bread). If Sally fries 12 wontons and is generous enough to share half, how many an extra kilojoules does Sally get from her cooking method (if you turn to the back of the book you will see that Sally consumes an extra 2000kJ, as does her dinner guest – or a whole meals worth of kilojoules). Food for thought, Sally. 

Baozi, Bao, or simply, Buns, are the bigger, more bread-like cousin of Wonton. Yeast is added to the dough to add fluffiness, as well as some sugar for taste/to feed the yeast. The yeast converts carbohydrates such as sugar to carbon dioxide which gives it the “bounce”. From a dietetic point of view, having more refined carbohydrate pastry and less meat/veggie filling means it is easy to eat lots of Baozi without feeling full, as protein from the meat is vital in feeling full. But an equally delicious menu option, nonetheless.

And of course, who can have dumplings without a dipping sauce. Soy sauce is usually the dipping condiment of choice, available complimentary in most Chinese restaurants. One tablespoon provides us with around 700mg of salt – about one third of our maximum daily intake. Technically, you could reach your salt intake in one dumpling sitting. Fortunately, any good Chinese restaurant will also provide a bottle of less popular black vinegar. Made from black rice, it contains significantly less salt – around 100mg per tablespoon, making it a healthier, equally delicious, alternative. 

Crash course done: you and I both can walk down Chinatown with confidence to understand (at least part) of the menu – from a culinary and a nutritional point of view. Now to the Smoked Salmon Wontons. Inspired by my new city: homeplace of the largest fish market in the Southern Hemisphere and my new suburb: unofficial homeplace of the world’s most dumpling-dense restaurant precinct. Smoked Salmon Wontons combine a Chinese dish with a fish more commonly eaten in everywhere but China (Europe, the UK, and the Northern Americas) and is so utterly untraditional. But aren't new beginnings about starting your own traditions?