Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Ultimate Comfort Food: The Joy of Dumplings

Why our dining critic thinks dumplings might be his ultimate comfort food.




photos by Laura Petrilla

 

When I was a child, I was a shamefully picky eater. A plate of dumplings, because I didn’t know what was stuffed inside, was a weighty proposition. In some cases, there was comfort in a dumpling; in many cases, there was terror in a dumpling. I would eat a cheese ravioli whole because I knew what was inside of it but wouldn’t move my fork for a spinach-stuffed one. Much to the embarrassment of my parents, I’d cast a wonton filling from its wrapper because I didn’t know what was mixed into the meat — and then eat the naked wrapper.

My idea of how to approach a dumpling evolved. Now, with all due respect to perfect pizza and the mighty hamburger, the dumpling for me reigns supreme among comfort foods. With their chewy wrappers and juicy fillings of savory meats, seafood, vegetables or broth, they’re both novel and nostalgic — and they’re enjoyed across cultures. 

I remember the first time I tried a soup dumpling. It was 2002, and I was living in New York City performing Shakespeare, children’s theater and strange, avant-garde musicals in rundown West Village theaters. I also was awakening as a gastronome, throwing off the shackles of annoyingly picky eating. Embracing the soup dumpling was a gateway to good gastronomy. 



I went with a group of friends to Joe’s Shanghai on Main Street in Flushing, a part of Queens where my culinary memories were forged by eating as often as I could at Amore Pizza in the Pathmark Plaza; big dinners cooked by my Aunt Arlene, a Jewish woman who turned Italian in the kitchen; and my Grandpa Benji lovingly force-feeding my brother and me cantaloupe and honeydew in the Mitchell Gardens apartment where my dad grew up. I didn’t care much for honeydew.

This Flushing was different. A world of eateries with roasted duck, barbecued spare ribs and sautéed snow-pea shoots, one of the first greens I came to like. And this soup dumpling — it was unlike anything else. I remember the server lifting the bamboo steamer, nine perfectly crimped purses revealed in humid, slightly sour fog. I remember clumsily using chopsticks to labor one to a spoon, awkwardly piercing the side of its chewy shell with my teeth. I sucked too hard, whoops, the fatty broth singeing my tongue. I got better at it as the evening went on, ordering a second batch and learning how to pour just the right amount of black vinegar to cut the richness of the pork and broth. 

Even now, when I return to New York as a hungry eater looking to explore as much as I can, I still make time for Joe’s Shanghai and a round of soup dumplings. Today, I don’t want to know what’s in the dumpling before I eat it. I want to relish the surprise and embrace the unknown. 

The dumpling is a culinary tradition; communities from Pittsburgh to Tokyo are loyal to their dumplings. At the same time, I love their versatility; sure, most local permutations have a set series of mixtures, but you really can stuff it with just about anything you have around the house. The dumpling is commonwealth; dumplings are best when they are made together. 



“They’re these little gift packets, and even if you know what the filling is, each dumpling you eat is a new experience all over again,” says Andrea Nguyen, a James Beard award-winning writer and the author of “Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More.”

It doesn’t take a lot of training to learn how to make a dumpling, and its ingredients are inexpensive. Unless you’re preparing them for a restaurant, you can delight in the irregularities and imperfections of forming them. 

“They don’t require special equipment. You do it mostly with your hands. They can be small children’s hands or an older person’s hands. All you need is a glass to cut out the shapes,” says Beth Kracklauer, the Pittsburgh-based food and drinks editor of the Wall Street Journal’s Off-Duty section. 

Preparing a dumpling is a tactile experience. Sticky hands combine flour and water, the lump gradually becoming Play-Doh as the ingredients incorporate, followed by feeling the satisfaction of stretchiness as the dough is kneaded into a smooth mass. “It’s repetitive. It’s meditative,” says Nguyen. 



When I moved to Pittsburgh eight years ago, I found comfort in another dumpling — the pierogi. One of my first food memories here was eating a large plate of them from Gosia’s pierogi stand at the now-shuttered Thursday farmers market in Bloomfield. I was feeling very lonely — the soup dumpling awakening I’d had years ago in New York was part of a series of experiences that pushed me toward Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in Food Studies — but that also left me alone in a new city. The pull of the doughy skin finished crisp in butter and the comfort of lush potato and cheese filling, all topped with slow-melted onions, helped, at least for a moment, to put me at ease. 
 

Don't Miss: Our Seven Favorite Dumplings in Pittsburgh

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Read More

The Tailor's Dumpling: Kreplach

A Pittsburgh chef and his family continue to craft a family recipe with roots in Poland.

Our Seven Favorite Dumplings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, of course, is best known for the pierogi. Our love of dumplings extends beyond that, however. These seven dumplings are our favorite restaurant versions of their various styles.

Ultimate Comfort Food: The Joy of Dumplings

Why our dining critic thinks dumplings might be his ultimate comfort food.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Fish nor Fowl Now Taking Reservations

The new restaurant from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group will soft-open later this week.

New Book Makes Crafters the 'Life of the Party'

The newest book from Lily & Val owner Valerie McKeehan includes more than 100 hand-drawn, tear-out paper cards, menus and tags that can be used for hosting a gathering.

"You Are My Friend" Looking for Extras in Pittsburgh

The Tom Hanks-led film will begin production in the Pittsburgh area this fall.

Perfect Presentations: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

These couples took the classic cookie table and made it their own with beautiful — and delicious — displays.

Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

The Sacred Spaces Tour takes visitors to the borough’s churches, mosques and historic buildings.

Waste Not: Kelly Lane's Fashion Designs are Eco-Chic

After noting how much fabric ends up in landfills, Pittsburgh designer Kelly Simpson-Scupelli found a way to incorporate the unused scraps into her fashion line.

Three Rivers Champion: Sloane Davidson

Davidson started an organization that gives refugee and immigrant families aid based on real, person-to-person relationships, not transactions.

The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The prehistoric drama is here to answer a question no one asked about the world's first-ever dog.

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

The cult classic will be screened at the Byham Theater in honor of the 50th anniversary of its debut.

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The light romcom is made for pleasing audiences — and in that respect, it succeeds.

Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Owners David and Victor Rodriguez also operate two breweries in Madrid, Spain.

Revisiting Fat Head's

The South Side stalwart punches above its weight thanks to good beer and gigantic sandwiches.

In Ben They Trust

Going into his 15th professional season, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains the key to a successful season.

PM on KD: The Fall Weddings Issue

PM Associate Editor Lauren Davidson appears on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to talk about the fall Weddings issue.

The Airbnb of Camping Has Started Pitching Tents in Pennsylvania

The startup Tentrr connects landowners looking for extra cash with interested campers.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


"You Are My Friend" Looking for Extras in Pittsburgh

"You Are My Friend" Looking for Extras in Pittsburgh

The Tom Hanks-led film will begin production in the Pittsburgh area this fall.

Comments

Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

The Sacred Spaces Tour takes visitors to the borough’s churches, mosques and historic buildings.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Fish nor Fowl Now Taking Reservations

Fish nor Fowl Now Taking Reservations

The new restaurant from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group will soft-open later this week.

Comments

Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Owners David and Victor Rodriguez also operate two breweries in Madrid, Spain.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
6 Best Places to Get Your Nostalgia Fix in Pittsburgh

6 Best Places to Get Your Nostalgia Fix in Pittsburgh

Ah, the good old days. They may be gone, but there are still a few places where you can get a blast from the past.

Comments

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

Our dining critic picks his favorite ice cream, ice pop, frozen custard, vegan delight and more.

Comments


Revisiting Fat Head's

Revisiting Fat Head's

The South Side stalwart punches above its weight thanks to good beer and gigantic sandwiches.

Comments

TopGolf is Big, Ridiculous, Still Fun

TopGolf is Big, Ridiculous, Still Fun

The new driving-range game is way over the top, but the game it's offering is fun and they'll ensure you have a good time.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
In Ben They Trust

In Ben They Trust

Going into his 15th professional season, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains the key to a successful season.

Comments

Steelers’ Saint Vincent Saga Even More Inspiring This Summer

Steelers’ Saint Vincent Saga Even More Inspiring This Summer

Ryan Shazier's battle back from a paralyzing injury last season and his subsequent rehabilitation from spinal stabilization surgery is a more compelling saga than the Steelers’ quest to reach Super Bowl LIII.​

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The prehistoric drama is here to answer a question no one asked about the world's first-ever dog.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The light romcom is made for pleasing audiences — and in that respect, it succeeds.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Perfect Presentations: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

Perfect Presentations: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

These couples took the classic cookie table and made it their own with beautiful — and delicious — displays.

Comments

Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Combining the old and the new, these couples used their vintage details to create a modern-yet-elegant wedding day.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
New Book Makes Crafters the 'Life of the Party'

New Book Makes Crafters the 'Life of the Party'

The newest book from Lily & Val owner Valerie McKeehan includes more than 100 hand-drawn, tear-out paper cards, menus and tags that can be used for hosting a gathering.

Comments

Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Partnering with PPG Paints, the company uses an online platform to match customers with professional painters and provide supplies.

Comments