SINGAPORE – There’s always room for a plump dumpling, no matter where you’re eating.
Something as elemental as a small crepe-like disk of rice flour and water creates the perfect canvas for meat, vegetables or sweet fillings. In Singapore, some of the most popular types include traditional soup dumplings, called xiao long bao, or versions made with pork, shrimp or minced vegetables. Due to the fact they’re bite-sized and typically contain comfort-worthy umami flavors, dumplings are a popular and affordable lunchtime meal.
The Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung has more than 10 outlets in Singapore, thanks to the popularity of its dumplings. These meek little parcels are icons of tradition. Din Tai Fung prides itself on their soup dumpling craftsmanship – with exactly 18 folds down the center of each one. Most diners come to Din Tai Fung for soup dumplings, but I am an alternative dumpling eater.
Meet the glutinous rice dumpling. It is as it sounds. A sleeper hit, this dumpling provides a comfortable chewy mouth feel. It’s adult baby food. Sticky glutinous rice is marinated in a fall-off-the-bone meat stew with Chinese spices and soy, before it is made into a compact ball. The rice flour patty is then wrapped around the stew to form a tight bundle. The outer layer balances the filling’s depth of flavor. Steamed to perfection, choose to dip them into vinegar or hot chili oil.
To end on a sweet note, choose the red bean paste dumpling. This little guy is 20 percent smaller than the average dumpling. However, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in density:
Filled with sweet red beans that have been blended and pounded into a paste, the tissue-thin skin celebrates pure flavor and texture. Its slightly grainy filling somehow works well with the smoothness of its outer casing. A satisfying bite that delivers a melt-in-your-mouth sensation.
When it comes to non-traditional dumpling fillings, my belief is that texture and skin are of equal importance to flavor.