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No matter where you travel in the world, there is bound to be some version of a local dish that consists of filling wrapped inside dough — a culinary hug of sorts. So it’s no wonder that dumplings are not only a common comfort food, but that each country also has its own spin on the doughy treat.
While the first known dumplings date back to Apicius Roman cookery recipes from the first century A.D., there’s a chance that Chinese varieties — known as jiaozi — go back further. In fact, some food historians even think cavemen made dumplings.
Their origins remain the stuff of legends, but their tasty flavors continue to appeal to humankind across generations. In honor of National Dumpling Day on September 26, we’ve scoured the globe to find a dozen dumplings definitely worth tasting.
Soup dumplings, Shanghai dumplings, and little juicy buns are just a few of the other names for the Chinese xiaolongbao, which translates literally to “little basket bun,” since the delicacy is traditionally steamed and served in a bamboo basket. While the most common Chinese dumpling is the jiaozi, the xiaolongbao stands apart from others because there is hot soup inside the dough. Pro tip: Many recommend taking a bite and pouring the liquid into a soup spoon and enjoying it separate from the dumpling.
The origin of the soup dumpling depends on which legend you choose to believe. One story says it was created in Nanxiang around 1875 at Guyi Garden Restaurant by a baker looking to serve snacks in the garden. Another goes back to the 1700s when Emperor Qianlong tried them while traveling in Wuxi — since he was given the nickname “Swimming Dragon,” it’s possible the “long” in xiaolongbao actually refers to dragon, not basket, since the two words are homonyms in Chinese.
Pierogies might be synonymous with Polish cuisine, but their origins are hotly disputed. Some believe they came from Russia in the 12th century, while others believe they’re an old Slavic dish. But there’s no question that the nation’s trademark dish is made of filling — savory or sweet — placed in a circular piece of dough and folded over. The most traditional shape has a scalloped seam, pinched to look like ears.
While mushrooms and cabbage are a traditional filling, other savory varieties include cheese, cabbage, meat (usually minced beef with breadcrumbs and onion), and Russian (potato, curd cheese, and chopped fried onion). Pierogies can be boiled or lightly sauteed for a crispy exterior, often served with sour cream. Sweet ones can contain cheese curd mixed with anything from berry preserves to diced apples.
The folk song “Ssanghwajeom” from the Goryeo Dynasty tells the story of a group of Uighurs who opened dumpling shops in Korea, leading to a common joke that a Mongol dumpling shop entrepreneur in 1279 was the country’s first foreign investor.
Whether that’s legend or history, the Koreans call their dumplings mandu, which means “deceptive head.” The name is based on the military strategist Zhuge Liang, who refused to sacrifice 49 real human heads to the river god, so instead made balls of dough in the shape of human ones.
Manti (Turkey and Armenia)
While tensions have always run high between Turkey and Armenia, there is one bonding element between the two countries: their love for manti. Usually made of little balls of spiced ground lamb or beef folded into a square or triangular pasta, they’re smaller than your typical dumpling.
But the two nations do have different preferences when it comes to how to cook them. Armenians tend to fry them before boiling, while the Turks just boil them. A large bowl of manti is usually topped off with generous portions of yogurt, garlic, and dry mint, while some will also add on red pepper and sumac.
The Japanese reputation for smaller portions also applies to their dumplings. At first glance, a gyoza looks and tastes much like a fried Chinese jiaozi, better known as a potsticker. And that’s exactly what inspired the Japanese. Soldiers enjoyed the dumplings during World War II in northern China’s Manchuria and brought the idea back to Japan with their own twist.
Gyoza dough wrappers tend to be thinner, and the dumplings are usually smaller and can be eaten in one or two bites, as opposed to pot stickers in two or three bites. But ultimately, they are fairly similar — after all, gyoza is the Japanese translation for jiaozi.
Empanada (Spain & Argentina)
While empanadas are often thought of as a Latin American dish, their origins actually trace back to Spain. Baked or fried on the outside and usually stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables, the pastry is made by folding a sheet of dough over the ingredients, which is how it got its name from the Spanish word empanar, meaning “to roll or cover.”
Many cultures — from Mexico to Jamaica — have put their own spin on it, but no place is more known for empanadas than Argentina. Their version is smaller than most (usually consumed in two or three bites) and comes in many varieties such as minced meat (with onion, egg, and sometimes olives), ham and cheese, or cheese and onion.
Most people think of ravioli as part of the pasta family, but as a “pasta in the form of little cases of dough containing a savory filling,” as Merriam-Webster defines it, the Italian specialty definitely falls into the dumpling category. Derived from the Italian word meaning “little turnip,” the word first came into use in 1760.
However, according to food historian Oretta Zanini De Vita, stuffed pasta can be traced back to the 1500s in the northern part of the country, as it was usually enjoyed in the courts of Milan and Mantua. The Italian merchant Francisco di Marco also wrote about pasta stuffed with pork, eggs, cheese, parsley, and sugar back in the 14th century.
Momo (Nepal & Tibet)
Everyone seems to point to one another when it comes to the origin of the momo. But all agree that the dumpling — which is popular in Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and northern India — reflects the region’s Himalayan roots. Nepal gives credit to Tibet for the popular snack food, which is traditionally filled with meat or vegetables. It can also be consumed for lunch, especially in the form of momo cha, where the dumplings are served floating inside a spicy soup.
There’s no doubt that the samosa is a decidedly Indian dish, but it surprisingly has roots in the Middle Eastern delicacy sanbusak, which comes from the Persian word for a triangular object and appears in Iraqi writing as far back as the ninth century. In fact, it’s thought that the sanbusak eventually found its way to several countries: In Spain, it became the empanada; in Italy, it became the calzone; and in India, it became the samosa. The deep-fried Indian snack with a crispy pastry shell is traditionally filled with potatoes and peas.
This Ashkenazi dish made of triangular dough filled with meat is traditionally served on three Jewish holidays: the day before Yom Kippur, Hoshana Rabbah, and Purim. The meat symbolizes a substance that fulfills humans but takes animal life away, while the dough represents food that doesn’t harm any creatures. Kreplach can be served in chicken soup or fried and served on its own as a dish.
Popular in the southwestern part of Germany called Swabia, the maultaschen are giants among dumplings, usually about the size of a human palm. Filled with meat, bread crumbs, onion, and spinach — and then topped with parsley — the large doughy delicacies often are simmered and served in broth.
One theory says that the dish was invented by the Maulbronn Monastery’s Cistercian monks, who hid meat inside the dough during lent, giving it the nickname herrgottsb'scheisserle, meaning “fool the Lord.” In 2009, the European Union acknowledged the dish as part of the cultural heritage of the Baden-Württemberg state.
Listen up: The Russian dumpling pelmeni hails from the nation’s Udmurt Republic, with the word meaning “ear bread” in the Uralic dialect. Like so many of the other dumplings on this list, the roots are thought to go back to the Chinese dumplings, possibly transported up to Siberia by Mongols. But of course, here, they’re topped with Russian cuisine’s trademark garnish, dill.