The World of Chinese - - FRONT PAGE - BY SUN JIAHUI (孙佳慧)

Shao­mai (烧麦), also known as siu mai in Can­tonese, is a type of dumpling. It is also con­sid­ered to be a type of dim sum as, con­trary to some West­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tions, dim sum is not a type of meal but rather a ref­er­ence to many dif­fer­ent foods served in small dishes.

Though the most pop­u­lar ver­sion out­side of China is the Can­tonese siu mai— due in no small part to the Can­tonese di­as­pora that spread it around the globe—there are many va­ri­eties of shao­mai that have been adapted to dif­fer­ent re­gional tastes through­out the coun­try.

Able to be made in the steamer or the fry­ing pan, shao­mai is wrapped in a thin, round sheet of un­leav­ened dough with a pleat bor­der. The fill­ing, usu­ally in­clud­ing meat, is put in the cen­ter of the wrap­per; that wrap­per’s bor­der is then loosely gath­ered at the top, form­ing a “neck” and a flower shaped crown. A green pea or a piece of car­rot is of­ten placed on the open­ing at the top as dec­o­ra­tion.

The dish is con­sid­ered to have orig­i­nated in Ho­hhot, In­ner Mon­go­lia, be­tween the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties, de­scribed in his­tor­i­cal records as being a side dish eaten along­side tea in tea houses. The name at that time was “捎卖”, lit­er­ally mean­ing “sold on the side”. Be­cause tea houses were usu­ally up­scale en­vi­ron­ments, they never served fried or stir-fried dishes as the oil and smoke might put guests off. So, if the guests wanted some­thing to eat, they had to bring it them­selves; the tea­house sim­ply pro­vided steamed wrap­pers for the food.

To­day, the same mea­sure­ments are used as in the old tea­house days. Shao­mai are served in liang, which are each equal to 50 grams. But be care­ful, be­cause that’s the weight of the wrap­pers and not the en­tire shao­mai. Usu­ally, one liang means eight steamed or pan-fried shao­mai. There is a say­ing in Ho­hhot: “Two liang of shao­mai are enough for a strong man to eat him­self to death.”

An­other ori­gin story for this dish be­gins with two broth­ers mak­ing a liv­ing sell­ing baozi, or steamed buns. Af­ter the older brother got mar­ried, he and his wife took over the baozi res­tau­rant and man­aged all the money they earned. The younger brother be­came a waiter. In or­der to make his own money, the younger brother be­gan to make a dif­fer­ent kind of baozi with a thin­ner wrap­per and an open top. In a fit­ting episode of po­etic jus­tice, peo­ple loved his ver­sion and named it “捎卖”, since it was first sold as a side dish for baozi. Shao­mai is con­sid­ered to have been

T his for­mer side dish won’t be side­lined 烧麦:薄面作皮,碎肉为馅,顶似花蕊, 卖相与味道俱佳的中式点心

brought to Beijing and Tian­jin by mer­chants from Shanxi Prov­ince. The name was then trans­formed into its mod­ern form, which uses two dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters but the same pro­nun­ci­a­tion.

To­day, peo­ple usu­ally eat shao­mai for break­fast or brunch, and it is com­monly served with vine­gar and tea due to its rich­ness. The shao­mai fill­ing varies in dif­fer­ent re­gions; it could in­clude pork, beef, chicken, or mut­ton, along with many other in­gre­di­ents like mush­rooms, bam­boo shoots, scal­lions, and some­times rice. In the South, peo­ple like to add crab roe or shrimp; north­ern China prefers more ginger and onion. In­no­va­tion is al­ways wel­come in the realm of shao­mai. And, if you’re in­tim­i­dated by the wrap­per, you can al­ways find some ready-made ver­sions in the su­per­mar­ket. So, get in the kitchen and let’s see what we can add to the culi­nary his­tory of shao­mai.

To make the fill­ing, mince the chicken, chop the wa­ter chest­nuts into very small chunks, and cut the spring onions and ginger into small pieces. Mix the in­gre­di­ents.

Sep­a­rate the egg white and add it to the mixed in­gre­di­ents

Add corn starch and all the sea­son­ings

Stir the mixed in­gre­di­ents un­til they form a thick meat paste. Set the fill­ing aside for later use.

Place one ta­ble­spoon of fill­ing onto the cen­ter of the wrap­per and gen­tly press down on it

Fold up the sides of the wrap­per and leave the cen­ter open

Top with one green pea on the cen­ter

Place the wrapped shao­mai into a steamer lined with a cheese cloth, cab­bage leaves, or other non-stick ma­te­rial. Steam for eight to 10 min­utes on high heat un­til cooked.

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