On the residency interview trail, I remember being asked, “Tell me about your childhood.” I responded by starting with my upbringing in the suburbs of California before I was interrupted by my interviewer with “No, I mean before that.”
I am actually a 1st generation immigrant to the United States. My father left for the US before I was born in order to help set up a path for my mother and myself to follow. In my conversations with him, he told me that he arrived in the states with $200 total. He was fortunate enough to have received a work study scholarship to attend a university, and tuition was provided. While that was great, the scholarship did not cover a place to live, food, books, or school supplies and there was the issue of the language barrier as well. So my dad worked multiple jobs in order to support himself. He worked in the school cafeteria. He worked in some Chinese restaurants. The pay wasn’t fantastic, but they would at least feed him once during his shift. The rest of the time was a lot of instant noodles (which he still hates to this day). He lived with multiple other students in a tiny,crowded apartment. And here’s the kicker, he did this while somehow juggling a full class load and doing ridiculously well. Apparently, a stipulation for receiving the tuition scholarship was that he must be a full-time student. I sat down with him a few years ago and asked him how he did it. His responded without hesitation, “Because not doing it was not an option.”
I didn’t meet my father in person until I was 3 years old. At that time, he already found a job and an apartment for us to live in. He had even bought me 3 toys (a ray gun, a truck, and a jet fighter). I recall it not taking any time at all for me to love and respect the man that is my father; the man who taught me to be honest, the man who taught me to be humble, and the man that I feel so incredibly fortunate to call “dad.”
Sarah and I made a large batch of dumplings last night. Dumplings have all kinds of symbolism in Chinese culture, but they will always remind me of home and family. Dumpling making should always be a communal activity. I grew up making dumpling with my family. My mom would prepare the filling, and we would all sit down around the table for hours folding, telling stories, and chatting. Dumpling making is a tradition that I’ve shared with my wife (Sarah is some kind of dumpling folding savant. I even sometimes think she folds them better than I do.) It is a tradition I plan to share with our children. It is a tradition I’ve shared with many of our close friends.
Should we ever get the chance sit down and make dumplings together, please know that in those moments, we are family.
Pork and Cabbage Dumplings
- Ground pork 1lb
- Napa cabbage 1.5 cups, julienned
- Salt 0.5 T
- Shiitake mushrooms 1 cup, diced
- Garlic 3 cloves, minced
- Ginger 2 T, minced
- Sesame oil 1 T
- Soy sauce 2 T
- Oyster sauce 4 T
- White pepper 1/2 T
- Corn starch Varies
- Dumpling skins 1 package (I prefer the circular shape)
- Water 1 small dish.
For the dipping sauce:
- Soy sauce 3 T
- Black vinegar 2 T
- Sesame oil 1 T
- Honey 1-1.5 T
- Garlic 1 clove, minced
- Ginger 1 T, julienne
- Green onion 1 stalk, diced
Begin by placing your julienned napa cabbage into a bowl and adding salt. Toss the mixture and let it sit for around 10-15 minutes. By this time, the cabbage be leaking water on the bottom of the bowl. Squeeze out your cabbage and place it into a large bowl. To the same bowl, add ground pork, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and white pepper. Use your hands and mix everything together trying to evenly incorporate all the veggies and sauces into the ground pork. This is your dumpling filling. It should be somewhat sticky and retain its shape if you mold it. If your filling is a bit too wet, add a bit of corn starch to help thicken.
Sit down with your bowl of filling, a small dish of water, and the dumpling skins. Use a small spoon to put a dollop of filling in the middle of the dumpling skin. Wet the outer edges of the dumpling skin with your finger. You are only going to fold one side of the dumpling skin in order to make the pleats. As you continue folding pleats, the dumpling should begin to take shape. Repeat the process for the rest of the dumpling skins.
Once you have a batch, take a pan with a lid and heat up some oil on the bottom. Make sure the entire bottom of the pan has a thin coat. Place your dumplings in the pan and let them cook for around 5-10 minutes. The bottoms should develop a nice golden color. Carefully add a small amount of water to the pan and cover it with the lid. Allow the dumplings to steam and finish cooking. This should take another 5-10 minutes depending on how many dumplings are in your pan.
As your dumpling are cooking, place soy sauce, sesame oil, black vinegar, and honey in a small bowl and mix it all together. Add ginger, garlic, and green onions to complete your dipping sauce. Serve on the side.
Dumpling fillings can be made with pretty much anything. Be on the lookout for a mini post where I’ll provide you with the recipe for a vegetarian version that I make as well.