The Food Almanac: Monday, August 12, 2013

Staff Writer
It's International Asian Dumplings Day!
Jon Sullivan

Today's Flavor
This is International Asian Dumplings Day. Dumplings--stuffed pasta, more or less--are found in almost every kind of Asian restaurant. It all started in China, but it's found now from Burma to Sakhalin. Dumplings can be made in many shapes and sizes, with many kinds of stuffings. The most typical is a light pasta skin wrapping a mixture of meat, vegetables, and herbs. Steaming is by far the most popular method of cooking. Some--notably "pot stickers"--are cooked a second time in a hot wok. 

The vast range of Asian dumplings is most striking in dim sum restaurants. Japanese shu-mai and gyoza and the Korean mandu are identical to Chinese dumplings. The mark of quality in all these is lightness. A dumpling with a thick, glutinous skin is a poor dumpling. Deep fried dumplings are the mark of a restaurant looking to streamline its operations, not make the best.

Edible Dictionary
gyoza, [GYOH-zuh], Japanese, n.--The Japanese name for a fried dumpling, almost identical to the Chinese pot sticker. The filling is usually a little lighter, almost always with a detectable flavor of sesame oil. The wrapper is a disk of pasta that could as easily have come from an Italian kitchen. For some reason, almost every Japanese restaurant serving these does so in a little boat, with the sauce at the stern.

Deft Dining Rule #191
When you can pick up a freshly-cooked pot sticker with chopsticks, dip it in the sauce, and transfer it to your mouth without its splatting pack to the table, you can claim a blue belt in chopsticks usage skills.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Dumpling Creek runs south for about eight miles across the rolling farmland of south central Missouri. Its last mile is an arm of the sprawling Harry S. Truman Reservoir, eighty-nine miles southeast of Kansas City, Missouri. That's formed by a dam on the North Grand River, a tributary in turn of the Osage, the Missouri, and the Mississippi. Its water becomes New Orleans water. If you're in a boat on the reservoir part of Dumpling Creek, you're five miles away from the Country Kitchen in Clinton, a town where the chains have largely taken over the restaurant market.

Eating Across America 
Chicago was founded today in 1833. Originally the point from which boats on Lake Michigan would portage to the streams leading to the Mississippi River, the site's advantages as a transportation hub soon became evident. When the railroads boomed, so did Chicago. The rails made it the center of many industries, not the least of which was the shipping of meat, beef in particular. Chicago has been a great steak town since the arrival of the first cattle cars. It's a terrific place to eat anything else these days--probably the most underrated (except by Chicagoans) eating cities in the country. The restaurant scene is not uniformly fine--it's dominated by chains, including many local ones. But the best of Chicago rivals the best anywhere else.

Eating Around The World
This is the Glorious Twelfth in Yorkshire, England, marking the beginning of the grouse and ptarmigan hunting season. I wonder how many of those birds are still around in England, after being shot for as long as they have been. In this country, the only way you'd ever eat such a thing (there is an American grouse, living in the northern woods) is to shoot it yourself. Fortunately, laws prevent any kind of sale of wild birds, so they won't become darlings of expensive kitchens.

Gourmets Through History
Diamond Jim Brady was born today in 1856. He started small and ended up big--in every sense of the word. He made a fortune selling railroad supplies, and used it both in philanthropy and very high living. His appetite knew few bounds, and his dinners in New York City were legendary for their grandeur and size. He got his nickname from the million dollars' worth of diamonds he collected over the years. We had our own Diamond Jim in New Orleans--Jim Moran, who was the owner of La Louisiane in the 1940s. But that was a different guy.

Music To Eat Kobe Beef By
Kyu Sakamoto died in a plane crash today in 1985. He was a popular singer in Japan for many years. He had the distinction of recording the only Japanese-language song ever to make it to Number One on the American pop charts. It was named Sukiyaki for the American audience, after the Japanese beef dish--which had nothing to do with the song's real lyrics.

Food Namesakes 
Cliff Fish, who was part of the 1970s rock band Paper Lace, was born today in 1948.

Words To Eat By
"Hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple dumpling."--Herman Melville.

Words To Drink By
"Drunkenness is temporary suicide."--Bertrand Russell, a very bizarre thinker, in The Conquest of Happiness. 

Who would want to conquer happiness? On the behalf of what?

Related Links
Around the World in 13 DumplingsA Shanghai Dumpling Primer