My visit with brother Trey and nephew Patrick in Hong Kong coincided with the celebration of Chinese New Year. Tuesday, February 5 marked the beginning of the year of the pig.
On the eve of the new year, I attended a family reunion dinner hosted by my brother’s fiancé and her parents. Vivian lives down the street from Trey in Discovery Bay, but her family hails from northern China where the holiday celebration includes regional traditions that differ from the Cantonese in the South.
When we arrived to Vivian’s apartment, the kitchen bustled with activity. Many dishes awaited us on the counter: a julienned cucumber salad with thin ribbons of scrambled egg to be tossed with sesame oil, rice vinegar and soy; Cha Siu, a Cantonese-style roasted fatty pork tenderloin with honey glaze; and a northern Chinese dish of pork elbow boiled in a stock with dried fruit – dates especially.
We found Vivian at the wok on the stove preparing Big Plate Chicken made with red potatoes and spices like cinnamon, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, cumin, whole dried chilies, ginger, scallions, soy, sesame oil, and chili bean paste. People in Xinjiang customarily serve this favorite dish with thick, long and flat wheat noodles, but we omitted such carbs due to the numerous offerings coming from the kitchen.
Northern Chinese families celebrate the new year reunion dinner by making dumplings together. After introductions, Vivian’s mother began shaping dough made with strong wheat flour or high protein bread flour as we find it in American stores. She carefully hollowed out a ball of dough into a ring about one inch across then cut the ring into inch-long pieces with a cleaver. I noted that she rolled the dough 90 degrees after each cut to alternate the pinch of the dough pieces.
Vivian’s father showed us how to flatten the dough pieces with the thumb side of the heel of your hand. He then used a narrow rolling pin to further flatten the dough into round skins from the outside edge toward the center. His technique left the center of the dumpling skin slightly thicker — a method he’s practiced since the age of nine.
Earlier in the day, Patrick and I attended a dumpling class near the wet market of Shau Kei Wan on Hong Kong Island. Our class used store-bought skins to make our dumplings. The store-bought skins require a touch of water along the edges of the round to promote a good seal on the dumpling, but homemade versions seal easily without added moisture.
With the skins ready for wrapping, Vivian’s family provided a fatty ground pork mixed with chopped scallions and celery, and salt for filling the dumplings. Her family taught us to fold the round skin in half and press the midpoint of the curved edge together. Next, we creased the midpoint such that the curved edges form a bevel shape. We then pressed both of the pointed tips from the inside filling outward to push the air out and seal the edges on either side of the midpoint.
Vivian and her mother spread cling film onto a long, high countertop where we stood and made rows of dumplings. Our dumpling making reminded me of holiday stories shared by my husband’s Italian family where they would gather to make ravioli for Thanksgiving or Christmas. His large extended family spread bed sheets onto flat surfaces all over his great grandmother’s home – counters, tables, and beds – to make space for filled ravioli to dry until cooked for dinner on the same day. I marvel at the fact that cultures on opposite sides of a hemisphere with distinctive but similar foodways and traditions.
After Vivian’s parents set our dumpling making in motion, Vivian and her mother returned to the wok to make more dishes for dinner: cauliflower stir-fried with a little ground pork tossed and steamed with chicken stock; red braised grouper (Hong Shao Yu) made with ginger, scallions, shaoxing wine, sugar, Chinese black vinegar, and soy; and shaved beef brisket stir-fried with cumin and red chili flakes.
As we prepared dinner, we joined around one billion other viewers to watch China Central Television (CCTV)’s New Year Gala — an event which makes the televised New Year’s Eve celebration from Times Square in New York City look like a small town affair. The gala includes a nationalistic variety show celebrating Chinese culture with music, comedy, drama, and dance and draws popular entertainers from all parts of China, including Taiwan. Apparently, those on stage perform without compensation. Refusing to participate puts an entertainer’s career at risk and at odds with the Chinese government. The visually stunning program held my attention despite my knowledge deficit of the language. I recorded many videos of the performances with my smart phone, but CCTV would not allow me to post any of these snippets with sound on Facebook (i.e., ownership rights). The true spectacle of the gala is hard to describe without seeing it.
With the table set with all of the above dishes, Vivian’s mother stir-fried a batch of the dumplings, brought them to the table and sat down to eat with us. She later boiled and served the remaining dumplings which we enjoyed with soy sauce and red chili oil.
Vivian’s mother made sure each of us received bites of every dish. So many dishes. So much food. Did I forget to mention that this is the year of the pig? Oink!
I’m grateful that my second visit to Hong Kong fell during the new year celebration — a great time to reunify with family.
Vivian helped translate the basic recipe for dumpling from her mother. She didn’t give exact measurements except to say that she used a 2:1 ratio of flour to water. I look forward to trying this at home.
Homemade Pork Dumplings
- 1 lb fatty ground pork
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 300 grams bread flour (strong flour)
- 150 mL water
- 2 grams or 1/2 tsp of salt
- Dusting of cornstarch
- Mix filling ingredients in a bowl and marinate for an hour in the refrigerator.
- Mix dough ingredients in a large bowl and knead with hands. Add additional flour until dough does not stick to your hand. Form a ball and place in bowl covered with cling film for 15 minutes to rest.
- Knead dough again for a few minutes. Form a ball and place in bowl covered with cling film for 15 minutes to rest.
- Hollow out a ball of dough into a ring about one inch across then cut the ring into inch-long pieces with a cleaver. On a cutting board dusting with cornstarch, roll the dough 90 degrees after each cut to alternate the pinch of the dough pieces.
- Flatten the dough into round skins with the thumb side of the heel of your hand. Use a narrow rolling pin to further flatten the dough into round skins from the outside edge toward the center which should be slightly thicker than the rest of the wrap.
- Place a small spoonful of pork filling about the size of a gum ball inside the center of a skin. Fold the skin in half and press the midpoint of the curved edge together. Crease the midpoint such that the curved edges form a bevel shape. Press both of the pointed tips from the inside outward to push air out and seal the edges on either side of the midpoint. Set aside and repeat until finished.
- Boil dumplings in salted water for about 5-6 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and fully drain before plating.
- Serve with soy sauce mixed with chopped scallions and hot chili oil.