Dumplings are the ultimate comfort food, especially when served in a steaming bowl of broth. The fillings are various – chicken, pork, prawns and vegetables – then there are those made in a single parcel like gnocchi, leberknödel and traditional English suet dumplings. Piping hot, cheap and filling, dumplings are the way to go.
Wonton soup + 2018 Pepper Tree Alluvius Semillon, Hunter Valley, A$45
My first introduction to ‘real’ Chinese food was in the mid 1970s on Dixon Street in Sydney’s Chinatown. The ambience was nil – bright fluoro lighting, well-scrubbed Laminex tabletops, upright booths and perfunctory service. The steaming bowls of delicious wonton soup were the highlight, the accompanying chilli sauce suitably lip blistering. Hunter semillon was in its heyday. The Pepper Tree Alluvius is a refreshingly modern version of this classic variety.
Din Tai Fung xiao long bao + Tsingtao Beer, Shandong, China, A$7/640ml
Steamed dumplings are one thing, but even better are the soup-filled versions perfected in Taiwan by Din Tai Fung, with an optional addition of chilli and ginger to the necessary vinegar and soy dipping sauce. I’ve enjoyed them in Sydney, but hoped to discover a more traditional, backstreet dumpling house on a recent visit to Shanghai. Shopping was taking its toll, when a shiny Din Tai Fung outlet sprung into sight. The soup-laden dumplings tasted (delectably) the same as in Sydney. However, in a nod to the locals, the Tsingtao beer came in longnecks, its boisterous bubbles soothing the chilli’s aftermath.
Gyoza + Enter.Sake Black Honjozo, Aichi, Japan, A$21/180ml
The Japanese ramp up the dumpling flavour quotient with their pan-fried gyoza. Our local purveyors do well, but in Japan vying for the best gyoza seems to be a national sport. Japanese restaurants typically serve sake in delicate ceramic cups or bespoke flasks. However, this single serve glass cup from Enter.Sake is perfect with takeaway gyoza.
Baked pumpkin gnocchi with roasted tomatoes and salsa verde + 2015 Antonelli Montefalco Rosso DOC, Umbria, Italy, A$38
Gnocchi takes a different path with potato the key ingredient. Local Orange food legend, Kathy Snowball has created a pumpkin-based rethink on gnocchi and it is absolutely delicious. The deep umami flavours of the roasted tomatoes and herbal flavours of the salsa just hum with this snazzy sangiovese/sagrantino/montepulciano blend.
Leberknödelsuppe + 2016 Nittnaus Leithaberg Altenberg Blaufränkisch, Burgenland, Austria, A$69
Eons ago I enjoyed several wonderful skiing excursions in Austria, each time staying at an old-style chalet on a demi-pension which included a hearty breakfast and dinner. Dinner often included an entrée of leberknödelsuppe, a giant liver dumpling (or two) served in an intensely flavoured broth. I hadn’t discovered Austrian wine at the time but I now know the perfect knödel red – this rich, blue-fruited blaufränkisch from Nittnaus, one of Burgenland’s top wine producers.
Russian pelmeni dumplings + 2016 Pheasant’s Tears Poliphonia, Kakheti, Georgia, A$59
In a truly multicultural moment, I enjoyed some robust dumplings at a Georgian restaurant in St Petersburg. I drank a Georgian red of suspect origins. Back home, I’ve discovered pelmeni dumplings at Russkis Deli on Bondi Road. Steamed and served in homemade stock, they took me back to St Petersburg, but this time with this proper Georgian red, made from a blend of 417 (yes, 417) indigenous varieties.
Most dumplings are made with flour or increasingly with rice flour to suit the gluten intolerant. Getting the ‘skins’ or wrappers wafer thin is a skill, nowadays on display in the front window of dumpling houses like Din Tai Fung.