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What is a dumpling to you?

I have found in living in different parts of the country that what constitutes a dumpling can vary greatly. I am not talking about fruit dumplings where fruit is wrapped in a dough and baked and coated in syrup. I am on the track of do you prefer big fluffy dumplings on top of stews etc. slathered in butter, cormeal dumpings cooked on top of greens, like turnip or collards or do you have a tradition of those sliders which are really thick noodles. Mine are fluffy or cormeal depending on the dish, but a big fluffy bready doughy dumpling on top of chicken stew, beef stew or even better ribs and kraut, slathered in good butter is hard to beat. What is your preference?

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  1. I'm with you on big, fluffy, and bready. I was amazed when I first encountered a flat, thick noodle-like thing that midwesterners call a dumpling.

    9 Replies
    1. re: pikawicca

      That's funny, because dumplings in OUR Midwestern family were always the fluffy steamed-biscuit kind. I had to go down South to get the noodlish variety, and I've come to like those once in a while, too. There's a sort of compromise version I found in a Carolina cookbook that I have not yet tried, which consists of biscuit dough rolled out fairly thin and cut into strips.

      1. re: Will Owen

        Same here for my Midwestern family... I'm not sure if I've ever seen the noodle-like variety. Of course, I also think of potstickers when I think of dumplings too!

        1. re: Katie Nell

          Oh, my Midwestern grandmother used to make the best "noodles" for her chicken noodle soup. But, they were sufficiently plump and had enough personality you could call them dumplings. If anyone knows how to make such noodles/dumplings, I would love the recipe.


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            did you get a recipe for these noodles.dumplings? I would like to know the recipe as well

            1. re: smhillen

              Growing up in Georgia, a dish like chicken and dumplings meant the thick dumplings that were rolled out and cut into strips. My grandmother always made up her biscuit dough (self-rising flour, lard, and milk by sight....no measuring) and then rolled out on a floured board to about 1/10th of an inch and cut into strips (1 inch x 1.5-2 inches) then dropped into the simmering chicken and broth.

              Living in Indiana for the past 10 years, the dumplings I've seen tend to be thick, fluffy balls of dough. Otherwise, it's called noodles. Beef and noodles over mashed potatoes is a big one in this area.

      2. re: pikawicca

        Would the noodle kind be like spaetzle?

        1. re: chocolatetartguy

          No, they are big, flat and broad and fat. Sometimes cut into squares and cooked on top of chicken stew and others.

          1. re: Candy

            Or in Indiana they are cut long and thin, and and the dish is chicken and noodles, delish. Same thing, different form.

            1. re: Candy

              do you have the recipe for these noodles/dumplings?

        2. As you well know, I am most certainly a Midwesterner and I will attest that dumplings are fluffly and steamed; those flat dense things are one of the many varieties of noodles we create. And when the weather cools down, I intend to make that most Midwestern of comfort foods: beef and noodles served on mashed potatoes.

          1. I had fluffy steamed dumplings as a girl and i think they were probably from the german side of the family. But from a former Southern life, south florida that is, i've had the noodle kinds, with lots and lots of butter.

            noodles AND mashed potatoes. I declare. that sounds like nosebleed food.

            1. To me dumplings have always been a starchy dough or noodle substance stuffed with something else (usually meaty) like pot stickers, mantu or won tons. I never knew that dumplings existed as lumps of dough in soup until this year! And I was born in America! I have yet to eat this type dumpling, I've just read about it. Man, I wonder what else I've been missing.

              1. Have you heard of doughballs? flour, water,salt and baking powder formed into a ball and cooked with salt beef and vegetables. I distinguish them from the dumplings I grew up with because doughballs have no fat ( shortening, etc). Made well, they are a pleasant enough addition to the boiled dinner, and they're pretty good with stewed fruit as a sort of dessert (also commonly cooked with the dinner might be bread pudding with onions or raisins and "figgy duff", which has raisins and a bit of sugar -- both of these are also dumpling-like but cooked in a cloth pudding bag in with the rest of the dinner).

                I have to add that my mother-in-law made excellent doughballs -- solid but yet light -- but that I myself have had no success at all. Mine are always soggy -- but my dumplings are great!

                1. Two types come to mind from Germany - a traditional bread dumpling and the grated potato kind. Both are completely delish. Can't deal with the doughy kind.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: cbauer

                    When I was a kid we spent almost three weeks in Munich. The variety of dumplings was mindblowing. It actually got to be a running joke -- we'd see something on a menu we couldn't translate and ask what it was; the answer was always "dumpling" but what we got was always different. I remember one that turned out to be a whole-wheat dumpling the size of a softball (not exaggerating) served sitting in solitary splendor in a pool of gravy.

                    Anyway, my first thought was that the defining characteristic of a dumpling is that the raw dough is cooked in liquid or steamed, rather than baked or fried (although some dumplings are "finished" with some other kind of cooking process).

                    1. re: cbauer

                      I make a dumpling called Butterkloesse for a soup that's not full of other ingredients. This is more about the broth and the dumplings. It's just flour, eggs, butter and a little salt. It makes a lovely, sort of sticky batter that gets dropped by spoonsful into simmering broth. They cook up light as feathers.

                    2. Has anyone ever tried deep-frying small balls of doughy dumplings? Strikes me that this might be pretty good. This sounds like it could be the origin of fried biscuits.

                      1. Dumplings are thin dough (rice or wheat or tofu) wrapped around filling (vegetable or meat) -- jiaozi.

                        The first time I had "chicken and dumplings" with those noodly things in it, I was so disappointed. I was waiting for jiaozi in chicken soup!

                        I've never had the bready fluffy kind -- do you mean a matzoh ball?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          Well, it kind of looks like a matzo ball, but it's much lighter and fluffy in texture.

                          1. re: pikawicca

                            And not boiled, it is like a biscuit steamed on top of simmering stew. They become light and airy and soak up butter and gravy beautifully

                        2. i have to echo some of the posters on this one: dumplings to me are more than anything else a member of the chinese food category. i know that lots of midwesterners love them and that they DO exist in the american context, but cmon, growing up with all the steamed dumplings and potstickers and whatnnot on that chinese menu just got me. do love them, tho.

                          1. I guess we should just say that any boiled farinaceous object that isn't a noodle is a dumpling! That covers gyoza, mandu, fluffy dumplings, doughball dumplings, liver dumplings, cornmeal dumplings, matzoh balls...and probably gefilte fish and quenelles and gnocchi...

                            Fine with me - I love'em all!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Will Owen

                              As usual, Will Owen, you've said what I was thinking. Particularly that part about loving them all.

                              As a Midwesterner, the current autumnal weather is making think about doing a batch of beef and noodles on mashed potatoes. Starch on starch - the quintessential Midwestern food!

                              1. re: jillp

                                Don't forget the browned-flour gravy: starch on starch on starch!

                            2. Growing up in the Ohio, a dumpling was fluffy steamed plump and doughy thing. My grandmother made chicken and dumplings and apple dumplings which was like an apple stew with fluffy dumplings and sprinkled cinnamon on top.

                              My grandmother also made the square noodles as Candy described but that was called chicken and noodles.

                              Now that I live near Washington DC these days..when you say dumpling, I think potstickers...dim sum....I would love to find a restaurant that does the chicken and dumplings the way I remember them.

                              1. fluffy, doughy, chewy, not bland but not trying to prove anything.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: amkirkland

                                  My dad used to make the best Chicken and Dumplings using Bisquick. Mine never seem to be the same, even though he has told me how to make them so many times. I think there's something about somebody cooking for you that just tastes better than your own cooking....

                                2. I grew up with German-style dumplings (mom is Pennsylvania Dutch) that cooked floating on a stew but my reference today is 100% Dim Sum. The German ones of my youth were pretty close to a steamed BBQ pork bun without the BBQ pork. I presume they have flour and baking powder as their main ingredient. They're both very fluffy.

                                  I've also had inedible steamed flour lumps in restaurants that were passed off as dumplings.

                                  1. I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles which is home to quite a large Asian population. So my first introduction to the word "dumplings" were my Asian friends' gyoza-style meat filled steamed pockets of dough that they brought for lunch in elementary school. It wasn't until high school when a girl from Tenessee joined my class that I learned that what I always called "biscuits" were called dumplings by a substantial part of our fair nation.

                                    Here's to geographic diversity.

                                    1. In my family (or at least the part with German ancestry) dumplings were tasty lumps made from cream of wheat & egg that were cooked in soup stock with veggies. I have no idea if they were a version of an old German recipe or something that my grandmother learned in this country, but I have never had anything like them in a restaurant.

                                      Of course, I love Asian dumplings etc, but still, once in a while, I will make my grandmother's style partly for the memories, but also partly because I like them.


                                      1. If there's one thing in life I've learned well, it is to never trust the word "dumpling' on a restaurant menu!

                                        I grew up with fluffy dumplings steamed atop a chicken, beef stew, or the ork and kraut version. Yeah.... with butter! Love 'em!

                                        I also love really good spaetzle, but no longer expect to find them in a restaurant. I make my own by "shaving" the dough off the back of a cake pan with a spatula and letting them fall into simmering broth. The last five times I have ordered spaetzle in a German restaurant turned out to be rock-hard travesties that were unfit as animal fodder! Hungarian restaurants tend to do a better job, but no guarantees.

                                        I once witnessed my second husband try to manage a matzoh ball in a Jewish deli in Boston. I think it was called, "Lock, Stock, and Bagel." It sat facing Boston Common, as I recall. The matzoh ball was the size and texture of a baseball. He finally gave up on it when the waitress told him, "No, we DON'T have a jackhammer you can use." I once had a matzoh ball at a friend's house that was edible. I wouldn't say drop-dead delicious, but it had a bit of chicken flavor to it, especially if you ate it with the soup, and she said she used schmaltz in it. I just don't know if the Jewish deli or the friend made them right.

                                        Don't like those flat cut up things that are really noodles hiding under an assumed name. But if you call them noodles, then I like them! I just hate to be served them in a restaurant when I order "dumplings!"

                                        But my daddy always told me life isn't fair.

                                        1. Me being a country girl in IND, I make both dumplings for chicken & noodles, I make big flat noodles along with skinner noodles, and just about 15 till supper is ready, make the fluffly steamed biscut kind. For beef & noodles, I just make the big flat noodles along with the skinner noodles. The big fat noodles I dont let get done all the way. Like them chewy.

                                          1. Dumplings that are fat rolled-out noodles come from the Scotch-Irish tradition in the South and more southern parts of the Midwest. My own guess is that the Scotch-Irish learned to make these from their German neighbors since German and Scotch-Irish immigration patterns were about the same.

                                            1. My Czech grandmother used to make a type of dumpling I loved: white and bready, tender and moist on the outside and pretty much like dense dry bread on the inside, and about the size of a softball. These days I think I'd choke if I shoveled 'em in the way I did when I was little!

                                              I also consider the soft, slightly mushy matzo-ball/spaetzle sort of soup floater to be a dumpling. Yum!

                                              1. i have to say as a NYer the first thing that comes to mind in the chinese dumpling/ kreplach/ravioli family and second in the southern fluffy with chicken stew thing, and though i've had the flat noodle type, they don't come to mind at all

                                                1. Without looking at the other responses, a dumpling is:

                                                  Of any shape

                                                  Between 1.5 and 7 cm size

                                                  Savory or sweet

                                                  Comprised, in part, by a starchy dough

                                                  Served in the context of some liquidy thingy