1800 years of dumplings

Celebrating national Dumpling Day in London’s Chinatown

To celebrate 1800 years of everyone’s favourite hot, tasty parcels, Chinatown London gave away 1800 free dumplings on 26th September, and some of the Panda Radio team head down there!

Can you believe that dumplings, have been around for 1800 years? We couldn’t either. Legend has it; dumplings were invented in the Han Dynasty around 1800 years ago. One cold winter, a physician named Zhang Zhongjian returned to his ancestral village, and noticed many of the villagers were suffering from frostbite, particularly in their ears. Zhang’s remedy was to cook up a batch of mutton, chilli, and healing herbs, and wrapped them in little scraps of dough – in the shape of ears! He boiled them and gave them to his suffering fellow citizens. This is why they’re known to have medicinal qualities, however they’ve evolved over the years to have fillings of a range of different types of meat or veg.

Your classic dumpling generally consists of small pieces of dough usually (but not always) wrapped around a filling. There is not only a variety of ingredients but a variety of cooking methods which make dumplings. Popular methods of cooking include boiling, steaming, simmering and even frying, and they can be eaten either alone or in a stew or soup. Traditionally, dumplings are eaten on the 5th day after Chinese new year, as they supposedly resemble good wealth and prosperity. Usually a coin is placed in the centre of one of the dumplings, and whoever bites into the dumpling with the coin will supposedly have a particularly lucky year! The best dumpling sauce for your classic Chinese dumpling is known to be 2 parts vinegar and 1 part soy sauce, and sometimes a little ginger or chilli oil can’t hurt also.

We head to Chinatown bang on 12 when the dumpling fun started, and the giveaway was so popular that within 10 minutes most of the restaurants involved were down to their last few servings! We spoke to Sophie outside Korean restaurant Olle on Macclesfield Street, who told us; “the idea was to get loads of people down to Chinatown, and realise how much of a variety there is on offer here,” which clearly worked! She said they weren’t quite expecting it to be so popular but it was so busy that some restaurants kindly gave out double what they’d planned to. Olle are a BBQ restaurant who were serving Korean dumplings filled with premium Wagyu beef called Mandu dumplings.

Olle, Macclesfield Street

There were a range of different cuisines involved. Those serving classic Chinese dumplings were initially the most popular, Plum Wine was one of the busiest located right in the heart of Gerrard street. They were serving Sichuan inspired spicy chicken dumplings. Their queue stretched right up the street to Haozhan, an equally popular Chinese restaurant serving Cantonese chicken sui mai. We spoke to some people in the queue outside Haozhan who found out about dumpling day on Facebook. They were prepared enough to get there 15 minutes early and managed to successfully get free dumplings at 4 different places, grabbing them at once place and then eating them in the queue to the next! At the end of the road is New China who were serving grilled pork jiaozi. Ichibun on bustling Wardour street were giving out mushroom ‘jicama’ gyoza, and 18 minutes in they only had 15 free dumplings left! They were the only Japanese restaurant involved giving everyone a taster of Japanese gyoza dumplings.

Ichibuns, Wardour Street

Also involved in the fun was Rasa Sayang on Macclesfield Street, the only Malaysian Singapore cuisine in London’s Chinatown, who were giving out fried chicken wontons. We spoke to Edmund and Brenda, who told us that they were very happy to get involved and give away dumplings, “it gives people the chance to to know Rasa Sayang and they will hopefully enjoy it so much they’ll return in the future!” They’d been very popular and by the time we’d spoken to them they’d already given out their arranged quota of 200 pieces, however Edmund the manager kindly gave out extra as some people had been queuing for a very long time. Their other signature dishes include the nasi lemak, a national dish in Malaysia and Singapore of coconut rice with curried chicken, and the Singapore Laksa, a curry based coconut noodle soup with prawn broth, they introduced this only a few months ago but many customers have already come to try it! They describe the restaurant to be very authentic, so if anyone’s been to Malaysia or Singapore and longs for the food, they can be sure to feel as if they’re right back there at Rasa Sayang.

Rasa Sayang, Macclesfield Street

Last but certainly not least, we head over to Viet Food on Wardour Street, the only Vietnamese restaurant involved in dumpling day. By the time we got to them at 12.30, the free dumplings were long gone, so clearly worth a try. We were told Viet Food got involved with the dumpling day giveaway because dumplings are a part of almost every Asian culture. “Every country has different types of dumplings.” For example, in Vietnamese cuisine they have a special version of dumplings with herbs. “It’s similar to some types of Cantonese dumpling but the ingredients and sauces are slightly different. In the Chinese version they usually have vinegar or soy sauce, however the Vietnamese version tends to use fish sauce and fresh herbs.” Today, Viet Food were serving grilled chicken dumplings with fresh Vietnamese herbs, pickles, and the chef’s homemade sauce. Amongst their other signature dishes is the Pho, a well known Vietnamese classic. Their menu is a mixture of the chef’s homemade specials, which are a combination of traditional Vietnamese ingredients with a modern twist.

Viet Food, Wardour Street

So 1800 years on, and dumplings are still a real hit. If you didn’t get a chance to hed down there yesterday, rest assured these restaurants are still there and definitely worth the trip. Be sure to try something new with the variety of dumplings that is clearly offered in Chinatown London.

Queues outside Plum Valley and Haozhan, Gerrard Street

Ichibuns, Wardour Street