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The perfect won ton (moved from SF)

Jonathan Gold starts a 2004 review about a LA restaurant asking what is the won ton. He writes ...

"Are wonton the fried trapezoids in sickly pink syrup that we may have eaten as children? Are they the floppy things that Sichuan restaurants douse in chile oil, or the doughy sinkers in Cantonese soups? May they properly be stuffed with foie gras, as they are on the menu of at least one fusion restaurant in New York, or with mint and mango, as I’ve seen in Honolulu? Is the standard pork filling mandatory, or is a great wonton more properly constructed, as at the Daimo noodle shop near Berkeley, with a whole shrimp sandwiched between a fresh scallop and a dried one? "

I never considered this before. I think of them as described in the first two sentences. I've kind of dismissed them as a way to bulk up chicken soup. Am I missing won ton wonderfulness ... btw, I plan to try Daimo soon.

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  1. I've been chasing the perfect won ton for a while. At home, I make them with a combination of minced chicken and diced shrimp. They need very little else, really but a bit of garlic and a bit of ginger (getting the right amount of ginger is actually really difficult I've found.)

    There's a place in the Outer Sunset called "Just Won Ton" (misnamed, they have a fairly expansive menu) that does a very nice job with them.

    1. What defines "perfect" or even typical varies by region in China. They take different forms and flavors in Shanghai than Hong Kong, for example. Some of us have been hunting for the best HK-style wonton and noodles in the SF Bay Area, here's one of the threads which will give you an idea of what defines it.

      And, this old thread gives more background on won tons. Hope we can get some of our Chinese culinary scholars to weigh in anew.

      1. I used to think the way you do and never ordered won tons in any form. But, my MIL bought some wontons and dumplings in soup that were mostly shrimp, some scallops and other meat, perfectly seasoned that were amazing. A bowl of that with hong kong style noodles is a great lunch on a cold day. I still haven't had good fried won tons, if there is such a thing. I still pass on wontons at most places but when we go to this one restaurant, it's one thing I always order.

        4 Replies
        1. re: chowser

          As you've discovered, "won tons" are like pizza in that there are so many bad things being served with the same name. They are popular just the same. Go figure.

          Since most people have only eaten what I'd consider bad won tons, I'm interested in hearing what "won tons" means to them, taking a cue from the original post, and what they like about it. I'm wondering why won tons (especially war won tons) have become a Chinese-American standard outside the ethnic enclaves.

          Edited to add: maybe my answer is in thread that questions why people like tacos and dumplings. (g) Even bad ones.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Having grown up in a little suburb in Ohio in the 70's, I also didn't like pizza. We moved to R.I. and I had their sicilian pizza and was in heaven, especially considering my reluctance to try it.

            As won tons go, my mom has made them from scratch since I was young but they don't compare to the ones from this restaurant. We all have things we make well and things we don't... The first time I had fried won tons, I was an adult.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              War won tons?

              "War won ton just means won ton soup topped with whatever the kitchen has handy cooking on the stove. It's a meal in a bowl, but not one that will show off won ton making particularly. Sort of like ordering a burrito when you wonder how good the tacos are at a taqueria. "

              Would the wonton itself be different?

              In terms of a non-Asian preferring war wonton soup, I guess it would be because of the extra ingrediants.

              I did the classic won ton soup at Daimo ... but I'm eager to try the war won ton based on the picture on the menu with the veggies and meat.

              I guess it is like adding noodles to a plain soup ... it makes for a heartier meal ... sort of the burrito analogy ... a taco will show off the meat ... a burrito will fill you up.

              1. re: rworange

                The won tons in won ton soup and war won ton soup are the same. I've had excellent war won ton soup w/ large shrimp, hong kong style noodles, baby bok choy, shitake mushrooms and good won tons and bad ones w/ bad won tons, kitchen leftovers. There used to be a hole in the wall place in Long Beach that had this very Americanized war won ton hot and sour soup. It was excellent, huge shrimp, great won tons, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms. A whole meal in an appetizer.

          2. I like wontons filled with a plump shrimp and just a touch of fatty pork. But most importantly, I like mine with a large flattened part that flutters as I take it into my mouth. It really does give the impression of swallowing clouds (won = cloud, ton = swallow).

            3 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Interesting question. There is very little difference between the soup dumplings and the won tons in the place I mentioned. Similar thin white wrap, similar filling, but the dumplings are a different shape. And, I use won ton wrappers to make ravioli all the time, sometimes with meat but I'd never consider them won tons, although the process is similar but night and day in seasonings.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Per Nancy in that post, have had the "comet/shuttlecock" version made at friend's homes, but the one I had in mind were just a large square with a lump of filling in the centre folded in half to a triangle which I see more frequently (and which were the versions I had at home).

                  Haven't encountered the thicker skinned ones in my experience.

              2. I too just love about most Chinese noodles, and make won ton that I freeze. But yesterday I caught part of a piece on the pbc, they were speaking of alkaline water and its use making the wonderful Chinese long noodles, or buns that have that special texture. Hard to describe maybe the word "springy" or a little "chew" to it? I don't know, anyway I see there was some talk about it on here awhile ago. Does anyone in CH use the alkaline water and know where (Chinatown-Oakland) or an online store source? And the proportions that are safe? Very fun and interesting stuff to me.

                Mine when I make are the usual store bought wraps or if I have time, a Chinese dough recipe I got from a Chinese woman that taught me, but we never discussed the alkaline water however. Does anyone use it?

                4 Replies
                1. re: chef chicklet

                  For won tons in soup, we only use alkaline water wrappers, purchased at the store.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Thank you for responding today Melanie, I am supposed to be getting ready for our day!

                    Is there a brand name that you know of and also, do they also sell the powder to make your own batch of Alkaline water up for food consumption?

                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      I was in Lion supermarket in Fremont today and took a photo of the brand you can buy locally. New Hong Kong Noodle Co. makes several wonton wrappers. The one you want has green on the packaging and is called H.K. Style Wonton Wraps. It's only 14 oz. per pack vs. 16 oz. for the other type and costs more. The color is darker and grayish from the alkaline water. Here's the picture,
                      Be sure to use lots of water when you boil them.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Thank you the picture helps tremendously. yup I gotta go to Oakland Chinatown for these.

                2. This is an interesting question to me personally. It seems we made won tons no-one else makes. My family is Hakka and both my parents were born in southern China. We kids grew up in South Africa as part of an enclave of Hakka ex-pats, together with the Cantonese who were in the minority in the Chinese community.

                  For a start we called these dumplings "gow" (pronounced more like "geow") which my parents said were the same as the Cantonese won ton. The fillings were made of hand-minced pork, crispy pork fat and some kind of dried fish or seafood - dried shrimp or dried squid or cuttlefish, toasted before being minced. Some kind of chopped vegetable was added, usually scallions, occasionally bamboo shoots. Finally the whole mess was blended with soy and some cornstarch.

                  Wrappers were made with an egg and flour dough, rolled to the thinnest setting on the big machine from China which was eventually replaced by an Italian pasta machine. The dough was cut into rectangles and re-rolled so they were semi-transparent and roughly square. Then the real work began. We kids rolled the dumplings. You start with a teaspoonful of filling in the corner of the wrapper, roll the wrapper over the filling like rolling a cigar, until you reach the center. Dab one of the corners with a little water and fold the opposite corner around and under the filling. Press against the wet corner to hold everything together. You end up with a rounded, dough-covered sphere sitting on a little skirt of wrapper. They should be small and neat, one mouthful of deliciousness.

                  Making won ton was a whole family, all-morning affair because of the labor involved. I've never tasted anything that was as good as these home-made versions. All the Hakkas we knew made them in the same way, some with fresh shrimp rather than dried, seasoning them a little differently, but the same basic recipe.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: cheryl_h

                    I've never had a Hakka wonton--or gow, so that's very interesting to read about the filling. What is crispy pork fat? Do you mean pork fat that's been fried?
                    I make my Cantonese wontons with ground chicken, diced shrimp, an egg, soy sauce, sesame oil, white pepper, ginger. The folding technique is the same. But I use store bought wrappers!

                    1. re: slacker

                      I didn't know how to describe the pork fat, it's the fat part under the skin, sliced fairly thinly and fried until the outside is crispy. Perhaps they're like pork cracklings? They add a distinctive texture and flavor to the filling.

                      You fold them the same way? You're the first person who does!

                    2. re: cheryl_h

                      Can you post a picture of the final wrapping? That would be so helpful. I went onto GarySoups link and they showed different types of dumplings there you might want to check to see if you recognize any to be the one..this is all so interesting to me!
                      And I don't know why I didn't think to use the pasta machine for dumpling dough, I certainly would finally get some use out of it since Italian food doesn't motivate me nearly as much as Chinese.

                      1. re: chef chicklet

                        I don't know where GarySoups picture are - can you post the link?

                        I found this series of photos online. It's pretty close to what I do:


                        I don't use a chopstick to roll the wrapper, and I dab the corner with water, not the meat filling, to attach the two ends. The final dumpling looks about right, you can make the rounded filling sit above the wrapper, or have it surrounded by the wrapper as in the photo. Hope this helps.

                        1. re: cheryl_h

                          Here you go, I had bookmarked it.


                          Click on Amoys dim sum guide.

                          1. re: chef chicklet

                            Nothing in the photos looks like the wontons I make. Look at the series of flickr photos I linked above. That's much closer to what I grew up eating.

                            1. re: cheryl_h

                              Sorry Chery H!! yesterday the computer was "burping" and I didn't see the won tons, just the other pictures.. Anyway that is how I make them as well, like a little nurses cap. I use these mostly in won ton soup, and I have also fried them for a crunchy version.
                              I will check your recipe out though. I love these things. Thanks!

                    3. There is no "perfect wonton" just as there is no "perfect person." There is only the wonton in front of you at the moment.

                      Does that one match your IDEAL wonton? That measure, too, is spurious - to choose one is to ignore a wealth of other delightful possibilities.

                      There are BAD wontons (for instance, the fried, dried-out pan of them that has sat on the buffet since yesterday). But there are wonderful wontons of so many types - steamed, fried, boiled, pork, seafood, veg, dressed with hot oil and/or black vinegar, in soup, and on and on...

                      1. The wonton soup in a Americanized Chinese restaurant is nothing like the real thing.

                        The wontons most others refer to (including the J Gold article) are cantonese style. They are primarily pork and shrimp, overstuffed in a very light wrapping. The bad ones tasted like shiu mai in disguise. Generally the places that sells chinese BBQ, congee, noodles and such tends to sell these.

                        It's a matter of preference, but I don't like the cantonese style ones much. To me they tend to be too chewy. I normally order the shiu gow (water dumpling), which has pork and a bit of veggies in them.

                        There's also shanghaiese style wontons. Generally the wrapper is thicker, and the filling is a mixture of bok choy, pork, sometimes shitake and shrimp. I like mine to be about 50/50 mix of veggies versus meat, and I don't like the veggies too finely chopped - it needs to have a satisfying crunch. Generally my family serve these wontons in a soup made of soy, water, sesame oil and pepper, and we eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Never seen the shanghaiese style wontons served this way at a restaurant.

                        In northern style chinese restaurants you will find the veggie meat wontons in chicken broth, sometimes with some sliced preserved veggies in the broth.

                        Haven't heard the sichuan style wontons in chili oil in quite a long time. But if memory serves, they tend to be mainly pork, and not too hefty.

                        So my entirely biased opinion is I like the shanghaiese style best. It's a balanced meal, naturally.

                        1. There was a won ton rendition that was popular in SF's Chinatown thirty-some years ago: duck broth yee foo won ton. The won tons were fried, then covered with broth, then topped with diced roast duck, diced veggies, and covered in duck gravy. This memorably tasty meal-in-a-bowl seems to have vanished from the cheap-Chinese scene. Too bad - I could use some right now.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Sharuf

                            Duck yee fu won ton is still around in San Francisco, as we've discussed.

                            1. re: Sharuf

                              I asked about where to find duck yee fu won ton on the SF board ... you talked me into it.

                              Thanks everyone. I didn't know there was anything to won tons prior to this and it gives me a new food to explore. The shrimp wontons at Daimo that Jonathan Gold mentions, were different from anything I've tried. I didn't detect the scallop but the golf-ball sized wontons had plenty of shrimp with the thinnest wrapper and were quite good.

                              So armed with links in this thread to local SF joints, I have a new food quest ... tilting at wontons with chopstiks. Won Quixote, so to speak ... woman of Manchuria ... to eat when the lips are too weary ... ok, I'll stop.

                              Has anyone read the old NY Times article by Craig Claiborne - Stuffed Noodles, they get around? Is it worth purchasing

                              In an excerpt on the Food Timeline he seems to tie dumplings like ravioli (from Marco Polo's 13th centure 'tour de China"), pelmeni, kreplach ... I guess I owe thanks to the wonton for my Polish pierogi.

                              In that above link the Oxford Companion to Food mentions a sweet wonton with dates and walnuts. Anyone know about that?

                              According to this article by some school children ...

                              "The wonton originated in Guangzhou in the Ching Dynasty, but it came to Hong Kong after World War II."

                              Kind of interesting factoids like shrimp was popular in Hong Kong because of being on the coast.

                              Some other interesting wonton info here

                              It states ... "Very closely related to wonton wrappers are Shanghai wonton skins and gau gee wrappers. These differ by the lack of egg in the dough and have boiling, rather than room temperature water mixed with flour to make the dough. The use of boiling water has a two-fold effect. It helps to develop the gluten present in the flour even more than would be achieved by simply kneading. This results in a silky smooth dough that ends up slightly transparent when steamed"

                              There are a couple of references that wontons originated with the upper class. I guess the time it takes to make was the reason, perhaps?

                              The wiki articles on wontons

                              And yet, no one has mentioned that wonton wonder ... crab rangoon

                              So ... for those wontons that are dipped in sauce ... the perfect dipping sauce?

                              1. re: rworange

                                Always though fried wontons and crab rangoon as Americanized chinese food. Not bad, but not really traditional.

                                Cantonese wontons - dipping sauce is red vinegar
                                Fried wontons - sweet and sour (eat the wontons mostly for the skins, not the filling)

                                1. re: notmartha

                                  Fried wontons are at the very least popular in Hong Kong (they are very large, about the size of your hand if you spread out your fingers) and stuffed with a small quantity of cantonese style won ton filling. It is served with sweet and sour sauce with ingredients such as shrimp, squid, pork, onion, etc. in it.