What began as an English teaching gig for Howie Southworth in 1996 turned into a life-long passion for Chinese culinary wizardry. Once he was able to drag his best friend and fellow gastronome, Greg Matza, along for a dumpling-fueled bender a few years later, the two vowed to spend as long as it took to eat their way across China. 20 years later, their delicious adventures continue and they've recently committed their collective wisdom to print.
"Chinese Street Food: Small Bites, Classic Recipes, and Harrowing Tales Across the Middle Kingdom" is a literary culmination of their delectable journeys. Through entertaining and informative vignettes related to each recipe, Southworth and Matza recount both tales historical and personal, as they weave a lyrical trail through cityscapes and countryside alike. From the balmy rice paddies of Yunnan and spicy alleyways of Sichuan, to the frozen tundra of Harbin and the imperial majesty of Beijing, Southworth and Matza offer a rare glimpse into the heartbeat of al fresco dining in China.
Jianjiao, or “fried dumplings,” are often mislabeled as “pot-stickers” on American menus. In China, they are two different snacks entirely, and it all has to do with the shape. Pot-stickers, or guotie, are long, flattened cylinders whose ends have been sealed shut. Jianjiao, on the other hand, are the same shape as a steamed dumpling, with pleats pinched at the top. More importantly, jianjiao is just a better name for a food. A dish can only be called a pot-sticker if something has gone horribly wrong, right? So, to both relate this dish to something you’ve had in an American Chinese restaurant and to face our fears of a dish being named after a cooking catastrophe, we stuck with the English name we hate and the much more elegant Chinese name.
Back in 2008, through our archaeologist friend, Qu Feng, we met Wang Rexiang, an anthropologist who specializes in everything culinary. When Mr. Wang talked about the origins of cooking in China, he waxed poetic about steam. “Steam is the foundation. Steam is the root and everything branches from it. In China, it all begins with steam. Bread, dumplings, vegetables, even fish!” he excitedly listed. He went on, “In the West, you bake everything. Carbon. That hurts both the environment and your health!” On that bit of hyperbole, we interrupted his poetry, “Hey, what about fried dumplings? That can’t be any healthier than a bagel!” “Yeah, they are delicious . . . but remember they are fried and steamed. That changes everything.” Let’s all walk away with that in mind.
Recipe: Jianjiao (Pot-Stickers)
Total Time: 45 minutes
Zhurou Jiaozi (Steamed Pork Dumplings) or Baicai Jiaozi (Steamed Cabbage Dumplings)
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 inch ginger, peeled, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
- 3 scallions, minced
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 tsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground white pepper
- 2 Tbsp chicken broth or broth from Jirou Tang (Chicken Soup)
- 1 egg, beaten
Jirou Tang (Chicken Soup):
- 4–5 lb chicken, whole or pieces, bone-in
- 2 inches ginger, peeled, halved lengthwise
- 1 head garlic, unpeeled, halved lengthwise
- 1 bunch scallions
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 1 gallon cold water
Cabbage and Egg Filling:
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 1½ tsp salt, divided
- 1 head green cabbage (about 1 lb), rinsed, finely chopped
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
- 1 tsp vegetable or canola oil
- 1 16-oz package wonton or gyoza skins, round preferred
- Water for sealing the dumplings, plus more for steaming
- 1 uncooked Jiaozi recipe from Zhurou (pork) / Baicai (cabbage) Jiaozi (Steamed Dumplings)
- 2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil, divided
- ½ cup water, divided
Optional Dipping Sauce:
- ½ cup soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
- 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 cloves garlic, mashed into paste
- 1 Tbsp Lajiao You (Chile Oil) with sediment (optional)
Lajiao You (Chile Oil):
- 2 cups vegetable or canola oil
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 star anise
- 3 Tbsp Sichuan peppercorns, whole
- 1 cup crushed red chile flakes
Prepare filled pouches until all pouches have been sealed.
In a wide-bottomed skillet with a matching lid, heat 1 teaspoon of oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, place dumpling pouches, sealed or pleated-side up, along the bottom of the skillet. It is okay if they touch, but do not overcrowd the skillet. Work in batches if necessary.
Fry the bottom of the pouches until they are golden-brown, about 2–3 minutes. Carefully pour ¼ cup of water into the skillet, cover with a lid, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook for 5–6 minutes. Turn off the heat. When the audible sputtering of oil has ceased, carefully remove the lid.
Serve jianjiao hot, optionally with dipping sauce.