Supermarket sleuth: The five best frozen dumplings
Of all the Chinese food that has made its way to New Zealand, it really seems to be dumplings which have captured our attention.
Jiaozi, the small pleated wonders that are usually stuffed with fillings like pork and chives, or beef and cabbage, have become almost ubiquitous in Auckland, easily found in any and every suburb.
Despite hailing from a Chinese background, I have no memory of ever eating jiaozi in my childhood – I was more familiar with wontons, or the translucent-skinned varieties at yum cha. So, funnily enough, I too got into them through the dominance of places like Barilla and New Flavour on Dominion Rd, which slowly pushed out until it felt like every single person in Auckland had a fierce loyalty to their chosen dumpling house. I have a fondness for Mr Zhou’s myself.
There is a real elegance to dumplings, especially when served in bamboo steamers with silky skins (zhēng jiǎo). Even more satisfying is when they’re pan-fried (sometimes called “potstickers”) and weaved together with a golden bottom, making them super crispy and an utter delight (jiān jiǎo). But, actually, my favourite way to cook them is boiled (shuǐ jiǎo), because the skins are just the littlest bit chewy and softer, too.
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* 'Auntie Dai' paid out by company that started restaurants bearing her name
* Recipe: Pork, coriander and water chestnut dumplings by Sam Mannering
* Recipes: Pork and kimchi dumplings
With frozen dumplings, you can cook them any of the ways I’ve described above. However, steaming ideally requires a bamboo steamer, which are generally inexpensive – you can get one from an Asian supermarket, or even Kmart.
Try asking if your favourite place does frozen dumplings to take home (they likely will, and, yes, they’ll taste better). If they don’t, the supermarket has some tasty options, too, but be warned – authenticity is not the criteria here.
Auntie Dai’s Pork and Garlic Chives
$11 for 600g
Because frozen dumplings never quite deliver the same umami as the ones you’d takeaway, juiciness is often key to the at-home experience. Auntie Dai’s dumplings are big boys, with good skins and a juicy centre that fills your mouth with flavour; a very classic, clean choice.
Kungfood Lemongrass Chicken
$6 for a 12-pack
I’m going to admit that I do not enjoy the brand name “Kungfood”, but, hey, they deliver on the fusion promise. The skins of these are thinner and the filling sweeter, with a distinct lemongrass taste that lifts the relative blandness of chicken (pork in dumplings are superior – sue me).
Janbo Dumplings Pork & Spring Onion
$5 for 350g
It’s the skin that makes or breaks a dumpling (literally), and thankfully these come out of the steamer intact but a little bit chewy, making for a satisfying bite. They are also quite sweet, and I don’t get much spring onion, but I like the texture, so just roll them liberally in chilli oil.
Leanne’s Kitchen Thai Pork and Prawn
$4 for 250g
These are the tiniest little morsels I’ve ever eaten – a child bite-sized dumpling that is, in my opinion, quite cute. This is a variety I’d probably not choose to eat in a restaurant, but it nicely differentiates itself from the frozen masses through a small burst of fragrant Thai flavour.
Little Asia Vegan Mushroom & Cabbage
$5.99 for 330g
Since dumplings are usually a single bite, they really have to pack a flavour punch, which can be harder with vegan varieties. Little Asia’s lean heavily into the pepper, but also has a decent gingery hit, so I think it’s a pretty good option for any vegans out there.