Zhenjiao (fried dumplings)

I lived in Taiwan for five months a year ago, teaching English to five-year olds. While I missed Western food while I was there, I really got into Taiwanese food culture. It’s so different – most people don’t have ovens, so no roast veggies or lasagne – and many people don’t cook, because they don’t have the time and it’s cheaper to eat out. On almost every pavement in Taipei there is a street food stand or plastic tables and chairs set outside a small restaurant. It’s like that in other countries in Asia – Thailand and Vietnam are the same – where street-side eateries are at the centre of food culture. Taipei has some amazing night markets, where you can find everything from oyster omelettes are centred around food. There’s a constant smell of frying and some overwhelmingly pungent food aromas (like the retchingly unavoidable fermented tofu). My favourite street snacks were dan bing (savoury pancakes fried with an egg and served with chilli and a dark salty sauce), manto (steamed sweet buns), tsong tse (sticky rice in bamboo leaves), bhao zhe gaolizai (steamed dumplings filled with cabbage) and shue jiao (small steamed dumplings). (My pinyin spelling is probably terrible, so if you know the correct spelling of these please let me know!)

I met Taiwanese expats Lisa and Mingwei Tsai recently, and I was so excited when they invited my boyfriend and I to make Taiwanese dumplings with them in their kitchen, because I’ve so missed them and I can’t find them anywhere in Cape Town.  Mingwei owns Nigiro, the tea house inside Origin (tel 021 421 1000) on Hudson Street in De Waterkant, where, in addition to drinking fabulous tea, you can eat Lisa’s fat steamed dumplings (bhao ze gaolizai), which are better than any I ate in Taiwan.

These dumplings are a bit of work, but so worth it. Make them with a couple of people if you can – it makes the work much quicker, and more fun.

The recipe makes 50 small dumplings.

For the dough

150 g bread flour
150 g cake flour
225 ml water
A pinch of salt

For the filling

1 cabbage, chopped
A handful of dried shiitake mushrooms, chopped
3 carrots, grated
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
Sesame oil
Mushroom extract
Chinese five spice

Fry the mushrooms in a bit of oil until softened and add to the cabbage. Mix in the carrot and celery and drizzle over some sesame oil. Add 4 tsp of salt, a grinding of black pepper and generous pinches of Chinese five spice and mushroom extract.

Make the dough by combining the ingredients together to form a dough-like consistency.

Flour a large work surface and roll out the dough quite thin. Cut circles with a glass or a cutter and fill with filling. Press the edges of the dough together to form a crescent-shaped parcel, and make sure that the edges of firmly sealed.

To cook the dumplings, cover the bottom of a large saucepan with a thin layer of oil. Cook the dumplings in batches, laying them out on the bottom of the saucepan in one layer. Cook on a medium heat, adding a ladle of water from time to time and putting the lid on to steam them. They are ready when they’ve gone a bit crispy and have turned golden brown.

To serve, make a dipping sauce of soy sauce mixed with freshly grated ginger. Drizzle over chilli oil if you like a bit of heat.