Setting the Table
A Chinese dumpling, more specifically, that of which filled with minced meat and finely chopped vegetables wrapped into a piece of dough skin, then steamed or boiled, is the dish I wish to shed light upon (Wikipedia). The legend surrounding dumplings include the fact that such were first invented in 225 AD, or the era of the Three Kingdoms (the division plaguing China). They then became popular as Zhang Zhongjing, who lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty 1800 years ago, noticed a catastrophe (frostbitten ears) plaguing his hometown. He decided to wrap mutton, chili, and warming medicinal herbs in the dough skin, folding them into the shape of an ear, then boiling them and giving them to those who suffered. It is said that the ingredients used in the filling warmed bodies, promoted blood flow, which thawed the cold ears of the people. The name of this specific dumpling is “Jiaozi”, and is still a staple during winter in most parts of Northern China, especially during the Chinese New Year and the Spring Festival (China Daily). Dumplings are often prepared when extended family members gather together to make dumplings, that are often eaten for a farewell to family member or friends. They are commonly eaten with a dipping sauce made of vinegar and chili oil or paste (Wikipedia). The people within the Chinese culture have a great affection for dumplings, as they symbolize warmth and health – or in other cases something important in their lives (China Daily). Religion is tightly connected with food among various circumstances, but most prominently when holidays are involved. This dish should be religious, or have prominent religious significance outside of the Chinese culture (more specifically, have better information / understanding regarding this dish).
Food symbolism, in which this dish has, states that foods are symbolic if they are used in traditions to symbolize an aspect in which the term “religion” is closely associated with. Such as warmth, as this specific dish I am preparing symbolizes. I myself believe this dish should be of religious significance due to the fact that the term “religion” itself means, “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance” (dictionary.com). A dumpling as described above is the epitome of this definition! I feel as if a dumpling is, in a sense, taken for granted. Those outside of the Chinese culture eat such without second thought, or the deep understanding of what it truly is, to others. Dumplings are versatile even within the Chinese culture by their filling, which could then in turn help them become a religious staple everywhere as they can be manipulated to fulfill any culture’s values. With this being said, I feel as if that will be the greatest struggle in preparing this delicacy. That being, putting the same effort, and overall meaning into this dish such as those who traditionally make it do. Oh, and of course, wrapping them so perfectly as well! The thing that attracted me to the dish is its versatility, its goodness, and its underrated stigma it holds! I hope to exemplify each through my take on this dish!
Along with various “traditional” holidays, in which I practice, come a vigorous period in which stapled dishes are made for the big celebratory feast. This occurs in almost all, if not all religions, but the one in which I will be specifically highlighting is that of the Chinese culture among areas within China and Asia. In many of these instances, store bought items / ingredients seem to play a huge role. In times like these, it is so easy to forget the meaning the ingredients themselves hold, rather we focus on the meaning the dish and the actual making hold. Both hold equal importance within various cultures – especially in Chinese culture, in the making of authentic, and entirely homemade dumplings, on a highly celebrated holiday, the Chinese New Year. Jaoizi a specific type of dumpling – the one in which I will specifically be making – refers to the turning point between the old year and new year (“Origin of Chinese Dumplings.”).
The process regarding any celebratory / respected dish is challenging for beginners, requires work, can be time consuming, but it all comes together in the end to bring deliciousness and comfort to those in a time of celebration. This portion of this process, (making the dumpling), seems to be simplistic, but as I stated before, this is where we often times forget why those ingredients, such as the pork, the vegetables, the type of wrapper, the shape, etc. hold the importance that they do. The ingredients hold the meaning that makes the dish. A dumpling can tackle different cultures, accommodate to the wants / needs of many, and is easily accessible to manipulations regarding all that goes into the production of it. With that being said, it can be shown that the history of this dish has evolved. What was once used as a comfort mechanism, shifted into that of becoming a celebratory dish (while paying homage to its origin), then to what we (as traditional Americans) see it and consume it as, an appetizer. This occurs in the area in which myself are acclimated to, as we do not understand the history behind what we are consuming. This opposite can be said of the area in which the dish originated, they only know the history and their purpose of the dish, not “ours”.
The problem with such, is that in doing so, we take away the importance that it holds to the Chinese culture, credit is not given where it is due. It is especially due in this instance as this is somewhat of a religion staple within the Chinese culture. Religion in this instance holds a different meaning than that of the religious affiliation that comes with Christmas. Religion, is defined in a must different aspect as “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance” (dictionary.com). Along with this, I believe the importance of the dumpling to the Chinese culture is not quite understood. Religious freedom, or “a principle that supports the freedom of an individual in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance” (dictionary.com). This dumpling, the process of making it, and everything regarding just that has all of which was just stated, as well who those who believe in, and make such. With this as well, the dish and again, everything regarding such, lacks an aspect of religious freedom, the sense that it isn’t widely understood by many, such again as Christmas / and the food / traditions within are to us – those who understand what religious freedom is.
Along with religious freedom, comes the overall well-being - a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity (dictionary.com) - of those making dumplings, and seeing / using them in the way that they do. Participants who exercise the making of the dumplings, in all religions, exemplify well-being within the way they manipulate the dish. It is made in a way that symbolizes health for them, happiness for them, and allows for prosperity to flourish off that. Fulfillment comes with well-being and the Chinese dumpling fulfills in more ways than one. Fulfills the needs of those Chinese cultured people, but also fills their bellies in such a time of desire! The lack of individual well-being within this practice is limited for the face that this dish is so versatile, even in such a traditional time such as the making of such due to a holiday practice, because it can still be manipulated. Everything surrounding the production of the dish is flexible to accommodate the needs of the people involved.
Social and environmental justice coexist within the aspects surrounding the production of the dumpling, outside of the kitchen that is. The use of pork is quite controversial due to the nature of society today regarding “moral” practices involving food, but would limiting the use of pork, by the Chinese today be acceptable, or justifiable by society? This is where this dish is hit on the opposite side of what social and environmental justice advocate for. Social justice being “justice in terms of the distribution of privileges with a society” (dictionary.com), while environmental justice is the fair treatment / meaningful involvement of all people, to enforce positive knowledge and relationship with the environment (dictionary.com). This exists for the dumpling simply because the use of pork. It enhances environmental justice due to the fact I have stated numerous times before; this dish has manipulability! Make it vegan, vegetarian, carnivore central, breakfast related, etc., this list can go and on! Other cultures have a ‘dumpling’, as well (Dumpling). By doing just this, the barriers of social and environmental justice will dissipate.
This dish highly exemplifies its ability to meet the needs of somebody, something… literally anything it needs to! With that being said, it is also (almost) always able to meet the “requirements”, or the essentials of various food laws and practices!
Here came my favorite part of this whole journey… making the dish I went up to bat for! Prior to making this dish, I knew the hardest possible part of doing so would be perfecting the wrapper dough, wrapping of the dumpling, and treating this overall dish with delicacy and precision to do it justice. And I was right. Consequently, I had to prepare this dish twice! Let me take you through the process of my first preparation of this dish. Any good chef recalls how they wash their hands, and their preparation area before starting – which I did! I then laid out all of my ingredients such as: correctly measured amounts of dough and water, spices, the components that would make up the filling, and every pot pan and utensil I could possibly use. First two preparation steps – done. This process seemed easy. That would continue, but only for a short while. I began preparing the dough. Mixing two and a half cups of flour with two thirds of a cup boiling water, stirring until the mixture becomes crumbly, then again quickly with one third cup of cold water, stirring vigorously until the dough can be manipulated. After three to five minutes of kneading, the dough should be smooth, maintain a round position, firm yet gives a little leeway when poked. The dough is then almost ready! I then covered it with a damp paper towel, and set aside on the counter to rest for twenty minutes. My expert chef of an Aunt, who helped me with this process, told me that dough that rests longer is better than that which doesn’t, but you CANNOT let it rest for too long! I let mine rest for 35 minutes, simply because in that time I prepared the filling, and picked out a dipping sauce recipe with which I’d serve my final product. The filling in which I chose to encompass consisted of pork, carrots, various spices, and ultimately anything in my fridge I thought would be good! Traditionally, this dish would consist of minced meat, finely chopped vegetables, and spices that are a staple within the Chinese culture. They use such as a representation of themselves and their culture overall. I did the same. This dish is versatile and I decided to exemplify that through the route in which I prepared it. The dish remained traditional, with my spin being adding proportions of things my way, along with spices I liked! I kept it traditional with the using of the soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and the use of sweet chili oil / sauce concoction for the finished dumpling to be dipped in. I roughly chopped a handful of each vegetable, sautéed them in a pan with two tablespoons of butter, and seasoned them to my taste. I then added that to the pork and mashed it together with a fork until it was evenly mixed. Preparation, dough, and filling steps were done! Making the dumpling wrappers is the next task! I rolled the rested dough into a long, snake-like shape, then cutting it into one inch slices. I continued on and rolled each into a ball – let me tell you… that’s a process! I then smashed the ball between the palms of my hands, then use a small rolling pin to flatten into a circle to a size that resembles a circle the size of the bottom of a standard Nestle Pure Life water bottle. That happened to be something that was on my counter that seemed easily comparable! Now that my wrappers were done, I began the dreaded filling process. Taking a tablespoon of filling I placed that in the middle of the wrapper, then synched the sides together with my hands, placing water on the edges as if they would act as glue! Seemed simple enough. Once twelve were made, I set them into a small pan set on medium heat, with a small layer of olive oil coating enough of the pan. I let them brown for two to three minutes, then added a half of a cup of water, topped with a lid to allow the dumplings to steam. The dumplings steamed for three minutes, before the lid was removed. The dumplings began to cook for additional minutes, and the crucial cooking / browning of the dumplings occurs while the water is evaporating from the pan. Once done, the dumplings will obtain dark, golden, crispy bottoms! Now, from what I just discussed, you’d think my dumplings turned out as similar to those of an expert. False. The folding on the dumplings that I did were faulty. I failed to make the divots within the dumpling, a staple among this dish, this meant the wrapping did not stick together, and fell apart in the pan. I had an inkling such would happen, so was not entirely surprised! All this meant was that I could experiment and make more! The second process was an exact replica of the first! The only difference being, that I added the divots and they turned out awesome! Below are pictures and videos of my process! (Ignore my aunts hand chopping the vegetables in the second pic, my mom still gets nervous when her baby ‘play’ with knives so she insisted my aunt take over! I swear I did the rest on my own)! The process of making the dumpling is similar to that of an everyday occurrence within my household. I had always dreamt of becoming a professional chef, so therefore was also eager to help out in the kitchen as much as I was allowed to. This become a bonding experience between my aunt and myself, and she was the “professional chef” in our family, to me. She knew more about this recipe and overall process than I thought she would, the recipe was by far not needed! That little fact enlightened me, as I took on this dish / project because I had figured the knowledge on this dish was lost within cultures / religions including mine, but my aunt restored my hope! My family enjoyed the dumpling, and appreciated my work on this whole project.
Now that I have explained my stance on Chinese dumplings, I’d like to address the rebuttal against my stances of the ethicality of this dish (in various aspects). Religion and Food heavily weighs in on the ethical reasoning among four criteria, which are, religious freedom, well-being, social justice, and environmental justice, which all relate to the religious side of food. Each of these criteria pertains to this dish overall, but they mostly apply to those who are (and aren’t) aware of this dish’s existence, make this dish, and especially partake in the eating of this dish. Within a previous assignment regarding my dish, I went to bat for it by saying it deserves to have religious significance, much like many other dishes, because of the background in which it evolved from, and the stance it continues to hold. For it to have the approximate religious freedom it deserves, I gave the knowledge that it is so versatile, that any religion could make it their own religious staple. This is where the rebuttal comes in. Is it okay to take a staple dish from a religion, and make it your own? I believe it is if you pay homage to the original dish, or at least understand the background behind this dish that you are manipulating, but the religious freedom of this dish comes to a halt when that is not done. A circumstance like such that could bring the depth of this to light is, one of another religion misusing an Advent candle, during the holiday season, with little to no thought regarding it. It seems so minute, but not to Christians. Same goes for the dumpling in regards to the Chinese culture.
Environmental justice comes in when we consider resources. The Chinese culture, prominent in East Asia and China, along with the culture / religion itself, the atmosphere is different than that of the United States, or anywhere else for that matter. That being said, the resources are not the same. I know this fact has plagued various people originating from cultures not prominent within the United States; it is not the same as “home.” It is not ethically “right” to use byproducts within this dish due to the religious aspect, nor is it environmentally friendly. The social justice criteria coexist with this due to the fact that because of all that I stated above, the most important being the resources which some (don’t) have, the dish ultimately cannot be made. Therefore, it will almost never gain the religious knowledge / respect it deserves.
Next the criteria of well-being, which stems off both social & environmental justice. The well-being of the person among this religion, and the well-being of the person who does not entirely know of the background of this dish. Again, with the resource aspect of this, the person who needs this dish for religious purposes can face the obstacle of allergies, taste, etc., anything that can stem from using foreign ingredients. For the person who does not understand this dish’s significance, initially comes the disrespect for the religion, as this dish is so often misused / misunderstood. The worst-case scenario of each criteria is explained above, and it all stems from the understanding of the dish itself. With that being said, it can be argued that any food, from French fries, to a mere jalapeño can face these same obstacles, so why must this dish be any different? It isn’t entirely different, I just believe it can pave the way for further dishes, that are facing the same obstacles in which this seemingly “minute” dish does.
Now that this project is over, it is time to reflect. Out of all the endless possibilities I could’ve chosen, I choose the Chinese dumpling. Honestly, I do not know why I did such. I think it was more of the fact that it seemed simplistic, and that I was somewhat familiar with this dish – but not to the extent I thought was. After completing every portion of this project prior to the actual making of the dish, I realized food is more than just food. Food to me, is home to another. And vice versa. Much like this dish was to me and others. I never looked at food they way I began to and do now, before this project and or class. I have always jokingly said, “I am in a relationship with food”, regarding how much of it I like and consume, but now my relationship has developed into something deeper. I understand the spectrum in which food is on. I rarely had second thoughts while eating food before, now I am insanely curious as to know where these ingredients came from, where this specific entrée came from, does it have religious significance, etc. All things we divulged into in this class. I gained a greater appreciation for food, but also for various religions. I had occasionally eaten dumplings, or what I referred to as potstickers, before, but I did not really understand the concept. While I love food, it is so complex to me. I cannot understand how some concoctions come to be! Along with the dumpling, I never understood its background, its purpose, its significance within its own culture / religion, rather my own. As I stated in a portion of my project, this dish was versatile, as other cultures and or religions are able to manipulate it and make it fitting for their needs, wants, and practices. This fact was highly important as it showed the extent of religious freedom that the dish could have, but doesn’t. I also think that fact is because this dish was not understood. I hope I brought light to it. I learned more than I bargained for. Most importantly, I learned how things, like food, are misunderstood. Food is more than food, like I said before. Every meal has religious significance, it just is not entirely understood. From now on, I will consider everything regarding the relationship between religion and food. I will look at every aspect in which we cover in this process (every stage). I gained a newfound respect for the Chinese culture and religion, along with various others. I hope I was able to introduce the misconceptions regarding the Chinese dumpling and pay it the respect that it deserves.
“Best Chinese Potsticker Dumplings.” Steamy Kitchen Cooking Shortcuts. https://steamykitchen.com/41178-best-chinese-potsticker-dumplings-recipe.html. Accessed March 2 2019.
Dictionary.com. https://www.dictionary.com Accessed 11 Feb. 2019.
“Dumpling.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumpling Accessed 11 Feb. 2019.
“How to Make Chinese Dumplings from Scratch” Omnivore’s Cookbook. https://omnivorescookbook.com/recipes/how-to-make-chinese-dumplings. Accessed Feb. 11 2019.
“Origin of Chinese Dumplings.” ChinaDaily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/food/2014-01/23/content_17253836.htm. Accessed 11 Feb. 2019.