A bite-sized dollop of marinated meats, spices and veggies inside of a pastry pocket is one of life’s simple pleasures. The experience of chowing down on a plate, banana leaf, soup bowl or oil-soaked brown paper bag full dumplings is a true delight, whether you do it in a restaurant or in a hawker mall full of street food masters. And whether you’re gorging on puffed samosas or juicy soup dumplings, it isn’t difficult to see that so many of the world’s far-flung dishes indeed share quite a bit of culinary DNA.
From African fufu to Scandinavian palt, this is how countries do dumplings across the world:
Gyoza | Japan
These Japanese dumplings trace their roots back to mainland China, and a later entry on our list, jiǎozi. Though the dishes share some similarities, gyoza are distinct in their heavy-handed usage of garlic to flavor the dumplings, and their usage of thinner, somewhat translucent “wrappers” – the small dough discs that form the outer shell. Gyoza are often accompanied by soy-based hare sauce that has been seasoned with chili oil and rice wine vinegar to form the perfect little dipping pool for these bite-sized treats.
Fufu | Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, the Caribbean
No matter if you spell it foufou, foofoo or fufu, this dense dumpling is made by mashing cassava root and green plantain before mixing the resulting mash with water. The result is a dense, fist-sized dumpling that is traditionally served submerged in a bowl of palm nut or groundnut soup. Once the soup has been consumed, the fufu is then meant to be gobbled up bit by bit with your fingers.
Southern dumplings | U.S.A.
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Dumplings take several forms in the U.S., but the best known are probably the Southern rolled or dropped varieties. Made by combining some mix of eggs, milk, baking powder, yeast, water and flour, the final product is a homey, bite-sized carb bomb usually served in thick stews. Most famous of all dishes featuring these puppies is the creamy chicken & dumplings, which features generous amounts of pulled poultry.
Manti | Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, China
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You might be less familiar with manti, but that doesn’t make them any less delicious. Popular throughout Central Asia’s Islamic communities, these steamed dough balls are stuffed with black pepper spiced ground lamb. Though the innards are fairly basic, a decadent dollop of sour cream or yogurt atop make the the food feel rich and robust. Turkey’s unique take on manti is a must-eat when traveling in the country.
Momos | Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan
Deep in the heart of the Himalayas, man oh man is the eating good. Across Nepal and its neighboring countries, people stuff their bellies full of momos each day to keep up the strength and stamina necessary to live at such high altitudes. Momos can be filled with virtually anything today, but fairly common are versions filled with paneer cheese, tofu or ground meats.
Pierogies | Poland, Russia, Ukraine
If it looks like an empanada, and tastes like mashed potatoes, what do you have on your plate? Why, pierogies, of course. These dumplings take many forms, both sweet (wild blueberry) and savory (mushroom and beetroot), but the most well known iteration the world over has got to be the classic potato and cheese-stuffed version. Pierogies, notably, are often cooked twice. After being boiled, these delicious little pockets often take a quick turn in a fryer to crisp their edges.
Jiǎozi | China
No nation is as closely associated with dumplings as China, from where the dish that so many of us associate with the word “dumplings” hails. Jiǎozi are small ground meat- and vegetable-filled pockets of dough that are cooked by either frying, boiling or steaming the stuffed purses. Almost infinite varieties abound across China, and everything from the contents (shrimp, pork, cabbage, garlic, etc.) to the manner of sealing the edge earn individual dumplings specific names.
Samosa | India, Iran
Even if they aren’t necessarily the most widely devoured dumpling variety in India itself, these crispy, triangular stuffed pastries are the dish most of the world associates with the country’s cuisine. India’s famous dumplings have the distinction of being vegetarian, stuffed with peas, potatoes or lentils. If that sounds a little dry to you, don’t fret. Samosas are usually served with an herbaceous mint chutney.
Mandu | Korea
Visually and culinarily similar to Japanese and Chinese entries on out list here, mandu are how the Korean peninsula does dumplings. Once reserved solely for meals in the royal court, mandu have long since proliferated across all sectors of daily life. The cooking style of these dumplings determines the prefix attached to their name. Gunmandu are fried dumplings, while mulmandu are boiled. And then there’s manduguk, a brothy Korean soup swimming with dumplings.
Empanadas | Mexico, Argentina, Belize, Chile, Colombia
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Imagine everything you love about samosas or gunmandu, but with a distinctly Latin American flavor profile. These crisp, fried dumplings (except for Argentina, where they’re baked) are stuffed with cheese, corn, beef or even egg. Entire fast-food chains dedicated to the empanada abound across South America, where these golden delights are laid out by the hundreds at a time, waiting for someone to take them home for supper.
Pangsit/Wonton | Indonesia, China
Does wonton soup ring any bells? The star of one of American Chinese food’s most famous dishes may be most familiar to you in a broth-soaked, translucent form, but throughout Indonesia and China, pangsit (or wontons) are prepared in a wide variety of styles. Whether you order them fried and filled with pork or steamed and stuffed with shrimp, pangsit are one of the world’s most versatile foods.
Palt | Sweden, Norway
Although palt is often stuffed with bacon or onion, this Scandinavian take on dumplings has more in common with African and American doughy dumplings than any of the meat-filled versions commonplace across Asia and Latin America. The dough is formed by combining wheat flour with boiled potato, and the result is a rich, smooth dough ball that is sometimes accompanied by sharp lingonberries to provide some counterbalance.