Dumpling means different textures and tastes for different cultures. Depending on the country origin, a dumpling can be served with sauce. In other cultural cuisines, the dumpling is never served with a sauce or else you could insult the cook.
In German cuisine, there is the dampfnudel or dumpfnudel. I wondered if we would actually find a real dumpfnudel at a restaurant or café while we were in Germany.
Traditional dumpfnudel is quite basic and has no filling. It is made from flour, water, yeast, pinch of sugar, and abit of butter. In appearance, it looks like a Chinese steamed bao, but with a slightly thin, firmer bottom that has been steamed and cooked in a covered dumpfnudel pan with abit of butter on the bottom of the pan. Yes, there is a dumpfnudel special pot for steaming. The Chinese bao is much lighter overall in taste, including its bottom which sits on a sheet of thin wax paper so that it doesn’t stick in the bamboo steamer.
A dumpfnudel is abit chewier and served with warm vanilla custard sauce, wine sauce or applesauce. Day-old dumpfnudel can be sliced horizontally and spread with abit of jam, honey or nutella since the dumpfnudel by now, is abit harder. Proper dumpfnudel-making requires heavy duty kneading for awhile which is not the same for Chinese bao. But hey, one needs to watch mother more closely on the latter. She used to do a creative interpretation, such as whole wheat flour bao. Her dough version is lighter and uses far less sugar than the recipe that I have linked below in “Tao of Bao”.
Tao of Bao
Unlike dumpfnudel, bao requires abit of cooking care to ensure the filling is properly cooked, especially if it is meat-based. Also traditional bao is never served with any sauce ladled on top since there is a filling with abit of built-in moisture or sauce. Traditional fillings are: Chinese barbecued pork (char sui) or minced pork with finely diced shitake mushrooms and water chestnuts. But bao filling possibilities are endless, especially on the vegetarian side. Bao stands by itself as an appetizer or snack. Nothing else is needed to accompany it for taste.
Jack only found dumpfnudel at a chain German bakery in a train station. The fast-food, chain bakery version did not quite resemble the homemade creamy-white buns. Instead the chain bakery’s version had a baked, slightly golden sheen surface. Maybe these grab-a-bite versions, were brushed with abit of sugar water or egg wash prior to baking.
And Czech Dumpling Cousins
Then later in Czech cuisine, I encountered two different versions of their dumpling – Bohemian or country dumpling, and potato dumpling. Bohemian dumpling is a bread dumpling that uses stale bread. Sometimes this dumpling
may have bits of finely diced meat and herbs. There was also the potato dumpling. Both dumplings were accompanied usually by a large portion of meat. Both dumplings were served sliced in sizes that suggested the original dumpling ball was much larger and sometimes, fluffier than a dumpfnudel. Or maybe this was tourist size.
Though I haven’t checked extensively, there are already innovative bao fillings. In the 21st century, bao like many Chinese dishes, roll on with the times towards more creative ways to please more palates and frankly, make abit more money. There’s even a local chain in Chicago called Wow Bao that makes bao varieties that include coconut cream or cinnamon. Sounds like dumpfnudel possibilities.
Maybe one day North Americans will see the dumpfnudel or its eastern European cousin, transformed and uplifted with innovative use of spices, herbs or other types of ingredients mixed into the dough. Maybe cheese. Or maybe mango sauce over dumpfnudel, anyone?
Remaining photos by J. Chong.