A Chinese new year special: steamed shui mai, dumpling soup and spring rolls

A trio of treats for you this Chinese New Year's Day

Gong Hei Fat Choy everybody!

Bam’s Kitchen just posted her dumpling recipe a couple of days ago, which made me laugh and smile with joy because my first post for thebigfatnoodle was a tribute to my Shanghainese mother, who taught me how to make Shanghainese dumplings (Click here for my very first bigfatnoodle recipe).

Bam’s recipe follows the exact same style of wrapping dumplings that my mum taught me, and it’s the first time I’ve seen anyone else wrap dumplings this way. At the time, I didn’t think of taking photographs through the wrapping process, so I’m very glad she did because if any of you are interested in learning how to, visit her blog here. However, every family will have a different way of preparing their stuffing and I alter mine to taste and mood every time I make them too.

I call them the 'waung' way after my mum - that's her family name - she is shanghainese and taught me and my brothers how to make these when we were kids

This mortar and pestle was given to me by my mum, and it belonged to her mum, who was given it by her mother. My husband and I treasure it dearly. It weighs a ton!

Today is Chinese New Year’s Eve and traditionally, I would be with my family tonight sitting down to have our Reunion Dinner. Reunion Dinner normally involves numerous traditional Chinese dishes, with dishes varying depending on what part of China your family is originally from. My mum is Shanghainese and my dad is Cantonese, so our dinners are a real mix because the two dialects are very distinct in culinary style and tastes.

Needless to say, I am feeling a touch homesick this weekend, made worse because I’m battling a sore throat that is bordering on becoming a cold. Thankfully, my very kind husband dragged me out of my wallowing and took me to the Chinese supermarket yesterday, which is a sure fire way of cheering me up.

I’m very proud to be Chinese but I say that sheepishly because this pride is tinged with sadness and failure. As a child, I couldn’t get my head around the language, and I spoke, wrote and read far better in English than I ever did in my own mother tongue. It’s been that way all my life. But just because I was more in love with the English language didn’t mean I loved being Chinese any less.

Needless to say, dumplings are GREAT when they're fried, and I love them even more because you can see the shape of the shanghainese wrapping much more distinctly

It took me five years after my husband and I were married before I changed my name. My family/maiden name is ‘Wong’ and for a long time, I refused to change my name because I didn’t understand why an integral part of my identity had to be given up for his.

Plus when people hear me speak on the phone, they automatically think that I’m ‘English’ and probably assume I’m white too, and it irks me when that happens. I know it’s totally irrational – and I’m obviously very proud to have taken my husband’s name – but at least when I was called a Wong, it kind of helped with the scene setting as people would be more likely to assume, correctly, that I was either Chinese/Asian/Oriental.

These are the traditional Chinese red packets that married people hand out to children during CNY. That's my chinese family name in the circle 'Wong'. My mum gave these to me before I moved to the UK and I treasure them a lot because I only have a few left!

That was, however, in my more angst-filled youth; today, I’ve mellowed out and there’s a tiny wicked part of me that likes freaking people out when they find out I am Chinese, and not whom they might have thought I was. Black cabbies in London are the best; I tease them mercilessly because many of them bang on about how immigration has gone to pot in this country and that they should stop letting anyone in – they speak freely because they think I’m English – so can you imagine their shocked faces when I tell them I am that foreigner that got in, that immigrant… priceless! I am of course NOT a dole scabber; I obviously speak the language and pay my taxes etc etc etc but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to remind people that not all immigrants are the same, and not all of ‘us’ are here in this beautiful country to rip it off!

Of course you can make these from scratch (like pasta) but it's much easier to buy them ready made

But the longer I live abroad, the more I find myself clinging on to little Chinese traditions that I was previously rather flippant about, like the traditional Chinese dishes I should have been enjoying with my family today. So, I’ve picked three dishes to share today, all of them important to our New Year celebrations. The other Chinese dishes will be posted in due course.

I wish all of you could be in my kitchen to celebrate CNY with us but as you can’t, I hope the pictures will suffice.

I’ve made shui mai – a traditional steamed dumpling made with pork and prawns; wonton – pork dumplings wrapped in the distinctive Shanghainese style in soup; and last but not least, spring rolls – a must at Chinese New Year! You’ll all have eaten spring rolls in Chinese restaurants but you simply must make these yourself at home. They are always better freshly made and eaten as quickly as possible out of the fryer.

I'm breaking in my new steamer. You can get rid of that musty smell new steamers have by adding fragrant leaves like banana or pandan when you use it the first time. I've also made 8 as that's our chinese lucky number!

These shui mai only take 6-8 minutes to steam. Most people dip them in soy sauce but I think they taste best dipped in chinese black vinegar.

On Monday, the Year of the Dragon will begin – it will last until the year of the snake takes over February 10, 2013.

I don’t actually follow the Chinese Zodiac; in fact I’m not a ‘believer’ of horoscopes or any of that kind of stuff (but I do believe in evil spirits, ghosts and yes, zombies – ok, I don’t really believe zombies exist but I’d be petrified of them if they did).

Don’t ask me what your zodiac is or means (that’s what the oracle’s for ie Google) but if you are interested, I’ve listed the dates of all the animals below so you can at least work out which animal you are. What’s not listed below is the element your year will be associated with; for example, I was born in 1972 and am a Water Rat.

Crispy, golden and delicious - fresh spring rolls straight out of the fryer

Rat 1924 1936 1948 1960 1972 1984 1996

Ox 1925 1937 1949 1961 1973 1985 1997

Tiger 1926 1938 1950 1962 1974 1986 1998

Rabbit 1927 1939 1951 1963 1975 1987 1999

Dragon 1928 1940 1952 1964 1976 1988 2000

Snake 1929 1941 1953 1965 1977 1989 2001

Horse 1930 1942 1954 1966 1978 1990 2002

Sheep 1931 1943 1955 1967 1979 1991 2003

Monkey 1932 1944 1956 1968 1980 1992 2004

Rooster 1933 1945 1957 1969 1981 1993 2005

Dog 1934 1946 1958 1970 1982 1994 2006

Boar 1935 1947 1959 1971 1983 1995 2007

So, whether you celebrate Chinese New Year or not, I’m taking this opportunity to say hello, wish you good fortune and hope that this new lunar year brings you much joy, happiness and good health.

The recipes are below or you can click for a printer-friendlier version here.

Freshly steamed shui mai and freshly fried spring rolls. YUM YUM YUM!

Lots of love


I can easily devour 10 of these, no problemo!

Steamed pork and prawn dumplings (makes 8 dumplings)

150 grams minced pork

150 grams raw tiger prawns, peeled and roughly chopped

2 large spring onions, finely chopped

1 tablespoon grated fresh root ginger

1½ tablespoon light soy sauce

1½ tablespoon shao xing rice wine or dry sherry

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 teaspoon cornflour

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

(optional) 8 goji berries

16 wanton skins/wrappers

Put your wanton wrappers to one side and in a large bowl, mix all of your ingredients together. When thoroughly combined, divide the mixture into half, placing one half in another bowl.

To make the shui mai, place roughly about 2 teaspoons of filling into the centre of a wanton wrapper. Gather the sides up (leaving the centre open, and roughly mold the wrappers around the mixture into a squarish shape. Top each dumpling with a goji berry (you can also substitute goji berries with some red salmon or sturgeon roe).

Place in a steamer and steam for 6-8 minutes.

I made an extra special effort today, even cut carrot flowers LOL!

To make the dumplings for your soup (makes 8 dumplings)

First make up 3-4 cups of your favourite stock and add some sliced carrots to your stock.

1 spring onion, finely chopped

½ cup of spring greens, finely chopped

From half of the pork and prawn mixture that you’ve retained, add the ½ cup of finely chopped spring greens. Mix well and begin wrapping the dumplings, again using about 2 teaspoons for mixture for every dumpling. If you can’t be bothered learning to wrap dumplings, you can just make a ball and twist them to form round dumplings too – you can see the round ones in the second picture in this post – they are sandwiched between the shanghainese dumplings above.

To cook the dumplings, drop them into your boiling stock – they’ll only take a couple of minutes to float to the surface and once they float, they’re cooked.

You can also find a different marinade I’ve used for dumplings here.

Spring rolls (makes 8)

1 heaped cup of grated carrot

Spring rolls are so easy to make yourself!

1 heaped cup of finely chopped chinese cabbage

100 grams of minced pork

1 tablespoon of shao xing wine

1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

2 cups of vegetable oil for deep frying

1½ tablespoons of soy sauce

white pepper

8 medium spring roll wrappers

In a frying pan, brown your pork mince in the vegetable oil. When your meat is browned, add the ginger and pour in your shao xing. Once its burned off, add your soy sauce and lots of white pepper. Turn the heat off, and stir in your grated carrots and cabbage. Mix well. There should be minimal liquid left in the pan and the residual heat from the meat is all you need to lightly cook your grated carrots and cabbage.

Use about 1½ to 2 tablespoons of pork/veg mixture for each spring roll.

Fry each spring roll for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve with a sweet chilli sauce or dipping sauce of your choice.

39 Responses to “A Chinese new year special: steamed shui mai, dumpling soup and spring rolls”
  1. Michelle says:

    Such a lovely post, and the dumplings look grand! Gong Hei Fat Choy to you as well.

  2. Mum says:

    It all looks very yummy.Gong Hei Fat Choy to you and Nick. MumXX

  3. Thank you for sharing your specal meal with us today. And thanks too for the “little bit more about you”. And aren’t Black Cabbies the worst? I love to disagre with them – it all goes QUIET ! I think there must be some kind of exam they sit, where they have to conform to steryotype and not just know their way around London.
    So wishing you a happy CNY. and thanks again for a lovely post 🙂

  4. ceciliag says:

    Today john has all the makings out to create something very like what you have described for our dinner, so i am uplifting my little computer and rushing down the stars to show him these MOST magnificent dumplings because i want them!! . hey i am an immigrant too!! And i love pointing it out but unfortunately my accent has already given me away! This was a very lovely post, very lovely words..Thank you Noodle.. c

  5. Gorgeous food, especially those dumplings! Happy Chinese New Year’s Eve, Noodle!

  6. spicegirlfla says:

    This was so interesting to read about your family, culture and traditions. Everything looks fabulously delicious! I’ve never purchased a steamer like that – had no idea you needed to break it in!!! Thanks for sharing, I truly enjoyed this!!

  7. A big thank you to your mom for showing you such a beautiful technique to make your Your Shanghai wonton, shu Mai and spring rolls. I especially love your purse rolls ! Thank you much for the mention, it means a lot to me. Wishing you a very happy and healthy year of the dragon. Gong Hei Fat Choy!

  8. K.M. says:

    Happy New Year!

    I too barely speak Chinese (Mandarin in my case), and I don’t understand Shanghainese except for a few phrases.

    Anyway, these shiu mai look great! They’re one of my favorites. I’ll have to go excavate the steamer from the cabinet in which it’s been buried; we make lots of Chinese food at home but not really the steamed things. Mainly because the steamer’s hidden! Ah well 😉

  9. Happy Chinese New Year – Celebration!!! The food looks delicious – yum:) Thanks for sharing.

  10. zestybeandog says:

    So beautiful! I’m envious of you right now! I wish our new year celebrations was a fun here!

  11. billpeeler says:

    Gong Hei Fat Choy, BFN!

  12. Have a very happy New Year! 🙂 These dishes look Amazing! So great that you follow your mom’s traditional recipe and way of wrapping. It’s nice when we can pass down traditions to our daughters. What a feast you have made here!

  13. Everything looks SO GOOD! Happy New Year!

  14. Clare Cooks! says:

    These look so delicious! I’ve been wanting to make dumplings for so long! But making gluten free wonton wrappers just seems like so much work…

  15. katyarich says:

    Happy new year.. these looks so yummy, beautiful pictures..take care, katya

  16. Happy New Year to you and Mr. BFN. I love these dumplings and that your mom taught you how to make them. Lovely.

  17. tastydesu says:

    These look amazing!!! Thank you for sharing this post and hope you and your family have a wonderful new year!

  18. WOW!! just WOW! (Love chinese food!)

  19. kat says:

    Mmmm dumplings and egg rolls, my fave! Happy Chinese New Year! 🙂

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