Slow down and make dumplings!
Cultures, regions and families across the world have their own style of dumplings. Dumplings are a local dish, heavy with tradition. Stuffing, wrapping and cooking this dish demands effort. It is not an instant meal, it’s a meal that requires time. It is a collaborative meal, often made with the cooperation of a few people. To me, all these features make dumplings the world’s most popular slow food!
Communities in different parts of the world have their own version of a dumpling tradition and culture. I personally got to know, taste and learn how to cook dumplings in several countries that I visited within the scope of Action Kashkarikas, which I founded and have run since 2016 and where I serve as a cooking instructor. For the Dumpling Post, I would like to explore the topics of the ‘waste-free kitchen’ and ‘slow food’, inspired by the examples of different kinds of dumplings and their stories.
Dumplings are a dish transcending geographical boundaries, race, religion and local cuisine, a symbol of both cultural diversity and a reflection of the common denominator of cultures. Since it is a labour-intensive meal, it allows adults, children or neighbours to come together as a family. There are dumplings in every corner of the world, every people, every culture, every religion, every belief. All of them are different: the outer dough, the inner ingredients, the spices, the shape, the texture. Sometimes wheat is used, sometimes barley, corn, bulgur, rice, rye, cassava, potatoes, tapioca, stale bread. They can be steamed, boiled in meat, chicken or vegetable broth, or fried. They can be savoury or sweet. There are plain, potato, cheese, meat, chicken, fish, vegetarian, fruit, jelly and gluten-free varieties.
Both nostalgic and modest
Dumplings have always been comfort food. In other words, it is food that can bring us back to our childhood, that eases us emotionally, makes us smile and makes us happy. And if you belong to a minority community, it tickles the emotional memory, satisfies the need for belonging, revives past conversations and experiences at the table, and triggers familiar memories wrapped in nostalgia. In this context, dumplings have mostly been a family meal eaten at home, but one that continues to be an indispensable banquet dish on special days and holidays.
In her book Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More, Vietnamese American food writer and chef Andrea Nguyen writes, ‘Dumplings are prepared from everyday ingredients ̶ that is their nature and genius.’ Beneath their modest appearance, it is important to note their long, multicultural history and the contribution they have made to the culinary cultures of their societies and communities. What moves me deeply is the philosophy behind the modest characteristics of the dumpling: Items such as roots, shells and leaves that are not normally used in the kitchen but thrown away can be used easily; making the most of an expensive ingredient with more economical additions, or by transforming yesterday’s leftovers, it becomes with a second life.
The world's most popular slow food
Slow Food was started as a national movement in Italy in 1986 by Carlo Petrini and his friends, gaining international status in 1989 when delegates from 15 countries signed a manifesto in Paris. Today, the organisation has become a global movement with 1,600 local branches (called convivium) in more than 60 countries, and it is represented in Turkey by local associations. The Slow Food movement, which started with the theme of ‘good, clean and fair food’, is a non-profit and invaluable civil society group working with the aim of protecting traditional foods, ensuring sustainability in production and supporting and strengthening biodiversity.
Every two years, Slow Food also holds a food festival in the city of Turin called Terra Madre, or Mother Earth. Its aim is to foster the exchange of information between local food communities, producers, cooks and academics. In 2020, Terra Madre was held online due to the pandemic. In cooperation with the Şile Palamut Convivium, we participated in this event with a live-stream food workshop called ‘Waste Free Kitchen’.
Unfortunately, unregulated globalisation has resulted in both the loss of tradition and in the deterioration of systems of food production and consumption. In fact, we must not forget that local products and traditional methods not only offer superior taste but are much healthier for our bodies, our soil, the climate and ecology.
Looking at the world from beyond the stove
Cultures, regions and families across the world have their own style of dumplings. Dumplings are a local dish, heavy with tradition. Stuffing, wrapping and cooking this dish demands effort. It is not an instant meal, it’s a meal that requires time. It is a collaborative meal, often made with the cooperation of a few people. To me, these features all make dumplings the world’s most popular slow food!
Amid the rush of our daily lives, can we find moments in which we derive genuine pleasure from preparing food? The next time you make dumplings, be sure to think: Where do the ingredients I am using come from? How are they produced? Is it local, is it seasonal? Remember who taught you how to make it and your family’s traditions. Bring your children and grandchildren into the kitchen. Teach, share, transmit.
In all of our lessons and workshops, we do not just teach our students ‘how to cook’. We urge them to think. The recipes we show them only draw a broad picture, explaining the technique, chemistry and process. As Slow Food President Carlo Petrini puts it, the cooks of tomorrow have the responsibility ‘to look at the world beyond the stove’, and ‘to make wiser choices about what to put on the plate.’ Moreover, it is crucial that they adapt their knowledge and creativity locally.
That’s why it is important to understand the concept of ‘culinary sisterhood’ when I share dumpling recipes from various communities from across the world in the online second issue of the Dumpling Post with the perspective of a ‘common culture’.
Slow down and enjoy the dumplings.
Translation by Ayla Jean Yackley
- The broad definition of dumpling is a large class of food consisting of pieces of dough made from various starches, either unfilled or wrapped or stuffed around a filling.
- An international initiative to raise awareness about food waste and food loss.
- An international movement advocating for good, clean and fair food.
- Barbara Gallani, Dumplings: A Global History (London: Reaktion Books, 2015).
- Andrea Nguyen, Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009), 8.
- ‘Slow Food and China: Together for Food Education’, Slow Food International, July 9, 2019, https://www.slowfood.com/slow-food-and-china-together-for-food-education/ (accessed September 1, 2021).