September 28, 2006
Nasty American versions of otherwise dignified foods are something of a national tradition. The Parmesan-in-a-can, mentioned above, is perhaps the best example—the greatest cheese in the world, reduced to sawdust. But I am an optimist. Look at American wine, coffee, and sushi, all of which have slowly climbed to palatability after decades of abuse. The American variations may never be exactly like their originals, but they have slowly become great in their own way.Posted by yi at September 28, 2006 4:45 PM
If dumplings are to follow this path to made-in-America greatness, we must understand what plagues our dumplings. Let's start with the skin. As any serious aficionado will tell you, the skin makes or breaks a dumpling. It must be sticky, thin, and chewy at the same time—no easy feat. It's similar to the challenge of making perfect sushi rice or pasta.
Unfortunately, American Chinese and pan-Asian outlets are lazy and suffer badly from a "thick-skin" epidemic, resulting in dumplings that are tough and greasy. A thick skin can also lead to a soggy dumpling, which is the worst fate—imagine eating a sandwich that's been soaked in water.
The real problem with overthickness is that it destroys what I like to call the "magic ratio"—the science behind the art of dumplings. The magic ratio—a factor in foods from sushi to sandwiches—is the perfect ratio of protein to carbohydrate. The right ratio seems to activate some kind of pleasure center in the brain, bringing about calm and quiet elation. Some dumpling devotees describe dumplings, done right, as mildly orgasmic.