Xiao Long Bao. Gyoza. Knish. Pelmeni. Every culture has a version of a dough pocket stuffed with some sort of filling, from samosas to dumplings to empanadas to pierogies. Even though the concept is the same for these items, they taste significantly different. According to the Oxford English dictionary, a dumpling is “a small mass of dough cooked by boiling or steaming”. The world encyclopedia provides a list of x number of countries with endemic dishes that fit under the title of dumpling. This vast number brings up an important question: how can a concept as simple as the dumpling vary so much throughout the world, and what makes each item different?
Growing up in an Indian-American family, my first encounter with a dough-filled pastry was the samosa. Samosas are a triangular-shaped appetizer that is either fried or baked and can be filled with potatoes, peas, meat, and lots of spices. While I have been eating samosas for what feels like forever, it wasn’t until this past year that my family attempted to make our own, in which we used this recipe for ground lamb keema samosas from the LA Times.
Clearly, samosas are quite different from a potsticker or pierogi. While all of these filled foods share the same skeleton, what is on the inside is what makes these items different. For example, the inclusion of turmeric, cardamom, and ground lamb in samosas reflects the basic elements of Indian cooking, while empanadas, which may look similar to the samosa, may contain ingredients like ground beef, green olives, and hard-boiled eggs that reflect the tastes of Argentinian cooking. Similarly, gyoza and pierogies share the same thin dough skin cooking methods of being either boiled or fried, but the minced pork, cabbage, and sesame oil within the gyoza reflect elements of Japanese food culture while mashed potatoes and sauerkraut reflect those of Eastern Europe.