Come and Get Your Dumpling: Some West-East Comparisons

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.

Cooking dumpfnudel, a plain German dumpling.
A bit of water for steam-cooking dumpfnudel at home. Dumpfnudel is a plain German dumpling. Dumpfnudel has no filling.

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.

Passing on dumpfnudel making knowledge to next generation. Photo by C. Leonard Becker
Passing on dumpfnudel-making knowledge to next generation. Photo by C. Leonard Becker

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.

Czech potato (white slice in foreground) and bread dumplings with roasted pork. June 2010
Czech potato (white slice in foreground) and bread dumplings with roasted pork. Prague June 2010.

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

Bohemian or bread dumpling and duck. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic June 2010.
Bohemian or bread dumpling and duck. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic June 2010.

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?

Interesting Reading:
Czech Cuisine.
Remaining photos by J. Chong.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. jaco223 says:

    Ah …Bao zi …One of my favorite foods. I sometimes lived on bao zi. Often stuffed with chicken, or cabbage. Steamed carefully as you said to ensure the meat was thoroughly cooked. Never served with a sauce. I would go for lightly dipping it in a soy sauce, or a spicy like sauce made from very hot chilis. There is a famous grocery whose name escapes me at the moment, but people were always lined up to buy their bao zi. Once you placed your order you would take your seat, if you could find one. It always so crowded, but well worth the wait. There was also another dumpling I don’t know the name of it, but it was boiled not steamed. Again without a sauce. Usually there were 15 to 20 dumplings to a plate. Soy sauce, a spicy mixture, and a vinegar type mix were offered to add flavor. The dumpling was filled with either pork, chicken, cabbage, and another vegetable. It is different from bao zi in the sense it was not as thick, or bun like as bao zi. Never the less it was delicious.
    I even found another way to enjoy bao zi. I would buy a chicken soup mix. Bring it to a boil, and put the bao zi in the soup mix. not a traditional way to enjoy bao zi, but a “yummy” way to enjoy them even my girlfriend liked it. She herself was quite a good cook often preparing for me so many of her favorite Chinese dishes. Ah Jean …I long for bao zi ..and her cooking!

    Thanks for this insightful post …



  2. Jean says:

    Ah, perhaps with the chicken soup mix, you both got your MSG hit. But hey for an occasional quick twist, why not? Sounds like verging on a won ton soup variation.

    Since there is a large Asian-based population in Metro Vancouver, there is a great deal of choice for restaurants and places serving a large variety of hand-made dumplings /dim sum.


  3. Devon Begg says:

    I wonder what you could call the dumplings that I grew up eating. I only ever had them in ”chicken and dumplings” stew. I guess you could call them dumpfnudel, since they used the same ingredients, but they were cooked/baked differently. The dough was dropped into the chicken stew and the lid was put on the pot so the heat and steam of the dish made them very dense and moist.


    1. Jean says:

      I have not yet tried the British(?) chicken and dumplings but those dumplings seem more biscuity in texture and weight. Perhaps in translating from non-English and English, the speaker/eater can only thing of the word “dumpling” as a convenient word. Hence, we have all sorts of dumpling variations from global cuisines, which is pretty neat. Since I didn’t have a photo, I didn’t mention another type of German dumpling which is totally different than dumpfnudel –that would be spaetzle. Delicious, lighter and closer in texture, to a noodle/pasta.


  4. One thing I like about living in Shanghai is that I never need to cook lunch, or even dinner, then I have the perfect excuse to go out of the house to get some bao zi. I can eat that everyday without getting tired. And the beauty is, there are so many different kinds of fillings to try.
    I have not tried the German and the eastern European kind. Sounds interesting though. But I did try the wow bao version when I lived in Chicago, not bad!


    1. Jean says:

      The German one is like a plain bao without filling. But they put a custard or sweet wine sauce over time which makes it delicious. I’m sure Shanghai offers alot more filling varieties. I can only think of less than 5 different types of fillings I’ve had in bao sampled in Vancouver and Toronto, so far.


  5. sybaritica says:

    Dumpfnudel… what a lovely name! Great essay!


    1. Jean says:

      Thanks for visiting. Dumpfnudel is a curious German word for something that is carbohydrate oriented but certainly not a “noodle” nor pasta at all.


  6. Kiki says:

    Hello Jean, my grandmother’s Damfnudeln were without filling, but they had a slight crust from baking on the bottom. I believe there was some milk in the pan when she baked them which then turned into a crust.
    As for the word Dampfnudel – I only know the version spelled with “a”. Spelled with “u” it would turn into an insult (literally transalted to “dumb noodle”) 🙂


    1. Jean says:

      Oh dear, I didn’t know about that unintended insult. I’ll have to go in there to correct it later. Thank you. (I can just see it already: his son might find it a convenient term one day.) My partner’s mother actually had a special pan to cook it properly. It was passed on down to her grandson after she died @93 yrs.

      You have to realize that my partner when he was growing up –had an elegant torte slice…every Sunday. I’ve become a discriminating gourmet dessert lover..because of his family. Other things he makes via mother’s recipes are– kohl rabi in white sauce, floating islands (meringue in custard sauce), etc.


      1. Kiki says:

        I’m sure the spelling with the u came about because our a as in Dampfnudel is pronounced like the English u, so people probably spell it the way they hear it 🙂


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