So versatile is the term “dumpling” that is used to describe pierogis, ravioli, pastels, and more. You could definitely travel the world with dumplings as your guide. There are at least 40 different types of dumplings in China alone, and many of them can be sampled during a single dim sum lunch. They come in different shapes, colors, textures, and flavor profiles, and can include a variety of meats, seafood, and vegetables as fillings. But how can you decide which dumpling tastes the best if you don’t even know how to tell them apart? We're here to help. Here is our list of the 10 best Chinese dumplings, how to tell what they are, and — most importantly — where to find them.
To decide which dumplings should make this list, we researched the cuisine of China region by region. Northern Chinese dumplings tend to be large and meat heavy, due to Mongolian influences, while Cantonese dumplings are more petite and shareable, as dim sum lunches are a popular social activity in Hong Kong and neighboring regions. We found a lot of these dumplings by simply zeroing in on the street foods of major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, where eating a quick snack on the sidewalk is de rigueur. To diversify the list, we looked for textural and flavor varieties: sweet dumplings, pan-fried dumplings, soupy dumplings, and so on.
It was not easy to choose the ten 11 best from such a wide pool of options. There’s even a soup dumpling, called guan tang bao, that is so giant huge that a single one occupies an entire bamboo steamer. You have to stick a straw into the top and drink the soup. However, since the skin is rather leathery, we figured there are better, more accessible soup dumplings you’d rather get your spoons on. Speaking of accessible, those planning a trip to Shanghai will be happy to know that Shanghai’s premier xiaolongbao haven, Jia Jia Tang Bao, is across the street from Shanghai’s premier shengjian mantou haven, Yang’s Fry Dumplings.
Soup dumplings aside, many of the dumplings on this list have fascinating origin stories, which is why certain dumplings, like qingtuan and tangyuan, are eaten especially during cultural festivals like the Lunar New Year. We’re not complete strangers to a few of these dumplings, like translucent har gow shrimp dumplings or egg and chive dumplings, but just because they’re standard in American Chinese restaurants does not mean they aren’t delicious in China (and America, for that matter).
Get ready to show off your dumpling knowledge to your friends — you’ll never confuse your shumai and your fun go again.
11. Cantonese Shumai
There are many varieties of shumai — for instance Uyghur shaomai, which contain mutton, or chrysanthemum shaomai, garnished with egg yolk — but the most common are the Cantonese kind, which are usually filled with pork and mushroom and topped with a sprinkle of orange color that comes from carrots or roe. The Cantonese diaspora is such that you don’t have to travel to China for good shumai; just go to your local Chinatown. We like New York’s Jing Fong.
Savory dumplings get all the attention, but we can’t have a “best dumplings” list without at least one sweet one, so we picked the most verdant: qingtuan. The dough is stretchy and bright green (it’s traditionally dyed with mugwort juice), and is filled with sweet red or black bean paste. They are often associated with the Qingming festival in early April. Wang Jia Sha in Shanghai reportedly sells 50,000 a day.