Aunty Zhang’s dumplings

8 Dec

One of my best days in Beijing began as any other normally would (with a nice bowl of hot porridge) and a work excursion to an elderly people’s community in the city’s suburbs. After a little bit of chit chat my Mandarin was fast wearing thin, so my next available phrase had to be the perennial favourite that usually results in laughter and thigh-slapping: “wo xi huan chi jiaozi” (I like to eat dumplings). While I got the normal laughter, the lovely Aunty Zhang leapt up from her chair to declare she would teach me how to make them, that day. Although we protested it would be too much, she was gone within a few minutes to buy ingredients. We got a rushed phone call enquiring as to whether I ate pork (I do) and about 45 minutes, we made our way to her house. She shares a kitchen with the others in her level, and another family was cooking stir-fried prawns for lunch. We mixed up pork mince, an egg, chopped ginger, chopped leek, chopped black fungus (mu’er) and grated radish, before the fun part of rolling out the dough and making the dumpling balls. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the shape the way the Aunties and their friends were able to. Apparently I mostly got the hang of it, with Aunty Zhang declaring I’d mastered them enough for her to start being a little critical and hard on my shapes!

Despite some wonky-shaped ones, and some totally professional ones, they all tasted amazing, put together with some vinegar and some of Aunty’s home-made chilli oil. It had to be one of the best meals, plus the best days I’ve had. The gossip, laughter, friendship and excitement around the table while folding the little pork parcels was like Spring Festival and Chinese New Year Eve when the family gets together to make dumplings.

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