A Brief History of Dumplings: An Animated Introduction




Dumplings are so delicious and so venerable, it’s understandable why more than one country would want to claim authorship.

As cultural food historian Miranda Brown discovers in her TED-Ed animation, dumplings are among the artifacts found in ancient tombs in western China, rock hard, but still recognizable.

Scholar Shu Xi sang their praises over 1,700 years ago in a poem detailing their ingredients and preparation. He also indicated that the dish was not native to China.


Lamb stuffed dumplings flavored with garlic, yogurt, and herbs were an Ottoman Empire treat, circa 1300 CE.

The 13th-century Mongol invasions of Korea resulted in mass casualties , but the silver lining is, they gave the world mandoo.

The Japanese Army’s brutal occupation of China during World War II gave them a taste for dumplings that led to the creation of gyoza.

Eastern European pelmenipierogi and vareniki may seem like variations on a theme to the uninitiated, but don’t expect a Ukrainian or Russian to view it that way.

Is the history of dumplings really just a series of bloody conflicts, punctuated by periods of relative harmony wherein everyone argues over the best dumplings in NYC?

Brown takes some mild potshots at cuisines whose dumplings are closer to dough balls than “plump pockets of perfection”, but she also knows her audience and wisely steers clear of any positions that might lead to playground fights.

Relax, kids, however your grandma makes dumplings, she’s doing it right.

It’s hard to imagine sushi master Naomichi Yasuda dialing his opinions down to preserve the status quo.

A purist – and favorite of Anthony Bourdain – Chef Yasuda is unwavering in his convictions that there is one right way, and many wrong ways to eat and prepare sushi.

He’s far from priggish, instructing customer Joseph George, for VICE Asia MUNCHIES in the proper handling of a simple piece of sushi after it’s been lightly dipped, fish side down, in soy sauce:

Don’t shake it. Don’t shake it! Shaking is just to be finished at the men’s room.

Other takeaways for sushi bar diners:

  • Use fingers rather than chopsticks when eating maki rolls.
  • Eating pickled ginger with sushi is “very much bad manners”
  • Roll sushi on its side before picking it up with chopsticks to facilitate dipping
  • The temperature interplay between rice and fish is so delicate that your experience of it will differ depending on whether a waiter brings it to you at a table or the chef hands it to you across the counter as soon as it’s assembled.

Explore TED-Ed’s Brief History of Dumplings lesson here.

For a deeper dumpling dive, read the Oxford Symposium’s Wrapped and Stuffed Foods: Proceedings on the Symposium: Foods and Cookery, 2012, available as a free Google Book.

Related Content 

Japanese Restaurants Show You How to Make Traditional Dishes in Meditative Videos: Soba, Tempura, Udon & More

How to Make Sushi: Free Video Lessons from a Master Sushi Chef

How the Astonishing Sushi Scene in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Was Animated: A Time-Lapse of the Month-Long Shoot

Ayun Halliday is the author of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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