Sui Mai: Chinese dumpling recipe

Sometimes I find food shopping in Paris like trying to catch a feather: the harder and more urgent you reach for something, the harder it seems to grasp.

And with the recent tanker spill of 800,000 pounds of cocoa beans, it seems like chocolate’s going to be in short supply, so I’d better find another medium to work with. So how about pork?


So off I went to Tang Freres in Paris and found everything I needed for the Chinese dumplings known as Sui Mai. I found just about everything…except for The Most Common of All Of All Asian Ingredients Known To Mankind: cilantro, or coriandre.

Not a bunch in the bin, and I (along with 15 or so Chinese dames) mulled around in a daze, unbelievable that the largest Asian market in one of the largest cities in the world could possibly be out of cilantro. *sigh*

Few people know this but I’m a pretty decent Chinese cook. I owe that to Bruce Cost, who’s the best and most gifted chef I’ve ever worked with. Dressed in khakis and a slightly-rumpled Oxford shirt, he’d hulk over the giant wok.

His hands would drop some raw vegetables and chiles into the wok. Then casually he’d add some shrimp or strips of beef. It would sizzle and he’d stir. He’d add a few more things; maybe some strange, unknown vegetables, some sauce, and perhaps some rock sugar or vinegar Then he’d crank the heat to ultra-high, the flames would blaze up around the wok, and in spite of the drama of the roaring fire and the wok, he would just stand there, calmly stirring.
Then he’d simply slide the food on a plate and we’d all be dazzled.

Making the authentic food from many cuisines isn’t all the difficult (unless you’re making Chinese food and can’t find cilantro…) It just requires you to have on hand a few essentials. Few cities I know of lack a Chinese grocer (and most do have huge bunches of cilantro), and in my experience, most well-stocked supermarkets have a decent selection of Asian products (unless you live in…oh, never mind…)

Some notes on a few Chinese ingredients:

  • Sesame Oil
    The best sesame oil is made only from roasted sesame seeds and nothing else. Check the ingredients, as some brands mix sesame oil with vegetable oil.

  • Fish Sauce
    It smells vile, but tastes remarkable when mixed as a sauce or seasoning. I use the Squid Brand fish sauce from Thailand. In spite of the menacing-looking cephalopoda on the label, fish sauce is made from salted and fermented anchovies.

  • Fresh Ginger
    Fresh ginger should always be rock-hard with no signs of mold or soft spots. You can peel ginger with a paring knife or vegetable peeler, but scraping it with a soup spoon works well to get around the nooks-and-crannies.

  • Water Chestnuts
    Fresh chestnuts are quite expensive in Paris, where they’re called chataigne d’eau. The only ones available were cryovac’d. When I got home, I tasted a few and they were so fermented that I had to toss them out. Luckily I bought some canned ones for insurance (proof that as you get older you get smarter), and used those. But the fresh are much better, and they’re easily available and inexpensive in Asian markets in the United States. If using canned water chestnuts, double the amount called for.

  • Shrimp
    Fresh shrimp is expensive and I’ve found that good-quality peeled raw shrimp is fine to use for dumplings.


Sui Mai
About 60 Dumplings
Adapted from the repertoire of Bruce Cost

This is a lot of pork to chop.
Yes, it took me about an hour and it’s quite a good workout, but I didn’t feel the need to go to yoga today…although chopping all that meat may be
bad karma
, so perhaps I should go tomorrow for redemption. (Can you ‘bank’ karma?)

But the dumplings have a much better texture if you han-chop the pork and shrimp, although you could use a food processor, or buy pre-ground pork.

  • 2½ pounds (1 kilo) pork shoulder (palette de porc)
  • 1 pound (450 gr) shelled raw shrimp
  • 1 bunch scallions, well-chopped (use as much of the green part that's edible)
  • ½ bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoon salt
  • 2½ tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 large egg
  • 1½ tablespoons roasted sesame oil
  • 6 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely-minced fresh ginger (peel before chopping)
  • Round won ton wrappers (or square ones...if the largest Asian market in your city doesn't carry round ones)

1. Using a large kitchen cleaver, cut the pork into slices, then finely chop all the pork up. Put into a bowl.

2. Chop up the shrimp into small pieces and add to the bowl.

3. Use your hands to mix in the scallions, cilantro, fish sauce, salt, corn starch, egg, sesame oil, water chestnuts, and fresh ginger.

Yummy looking? Well, not yet…

4. Form the meat mixture into balls about 1-inch (3 cm) and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Ok, much better…

5. Take a won ton wrapper and place a meatball in the center. Gather the edges up and press the wrapper against the meat making a little cylinder.

Repeat with remaining meatballs.

6. To steam the dumplings, line a bamboo steamer with banana leaves and oil them lightly. Turn on the heat, and once the steamer is hot, steam the dumplings until hot all the way through, which will take about 5 minutes. (You can also use a steamer basket lined with cheesecloth, or lightly oiled.)

If you wish, the meatballs sans the won-ton wrappers can be gently dropped into simmering water and cooked for about 5 minutes, until cooked through, then served with the dipping sauce, or floating in soup.

Once steamed and cooled, the dumplings can be frozen in freezer-bags.

Dipping sauce

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger (peeled)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons white Chinese vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon white pepper
3-4 teaspoons roasted sesame oil
1-2 teaspoons chili oil

Mix all the ingredients together. Serve with the hot, steamed dumplings.

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  • January 14, 2006 3:51am

    Go BABY!!!
    one of my favorite treats to myself.. although I must say often I wait for my trips to SF for some dimsum!
    Thanks for sharing!

  • John
    January 14, 2006 6:43am

    OK! This is your spritual guide speaking. There we have the finest kosher Sui Mai dumplings? Oi vey! And you – a good boy – once upon a time. (But we still pray for you). Go win the city food blog! We are all voting several times a day for you.

  • Spencer
    January 14, 2006 9:58am

    Your sui mai looks very enticing!!! A perfect time to have dumplings on a cold day! If you can’t find round wonton wrappers, I suspect you can make them with square ones. If you have a round cookie cutter that fits close to the edges of the square ones, you can cut your own!! Just cut out a couple of slabs at a time. You can save the scraps for dumping into a stock to make a soup.

  • Nancy
    January 14, 2006 2:12pm

    I’m listening to GOOD FOOD on KCRW via my computer and is it you who will soon be on? Can’t wait to listen. I am currently working, at the library, and so all the patrons will listen too. Chocolates and paris. Oh goody

  • simona
    January 14, 2006 4:39pm

    This very “appetissant” post of yours gave me the courage, actually the “Hutzpe” to ask you if you could help me with the address of a good chinese and/or vietnamese and/or thai restaurant in Paris.
    I’ll be in Paris next week. I knew some when I was a student, but that’s about three ( oi vey)decades ago.
    Thank you in advance

  • January 14, 2006 11:20pm

    I’m so impressed that you actually chopped the meat yourself! I just go to the butcher in Chinatown and buy the “paste” that they chop for me. The sauce you made looks great – I’ll have to try it next time I can make the time to fold dumplings.

  • January 15, 2006 3:01am


    My favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Paris is Le Bambou in the 13th, and a good Thai place is Lao Siam in Belleville. (Le Bambou is just a block from Tang Freres, so you must visit). You can visit Pages Jeaunes or Google, for the exact address and/or metro stops.

  • January 15, 2006 8:52am

    Oh My, David Sui Mai! Merci for the arm-wrestling chopping contribution to the pig weekend. I hope you put a few of those dumplings in the freezer labeled “for Kate”. Btw, I am simmering a pigs foot in red wine as we speak; the barge smells pigluscious. Check us out at on Tuesday!

  • simona
    January 15, 2006 1:08pm

    Merci beaucoup

  • January 16, 2006 12:08am

    Delicious as always, David!

  • January 16, 2006 12:29am

    You made my day!!! I have always been looking for a recipe of Sui Mai but I guess I was always too lazy to fully complete my search and now here it is. Plus great pics and explanations. Merci! C’est chouette ca! I cannot wait to rush to the stores to get what I need to make them.

  • January 16, 2006 1:03am

    So what’s with holding out on us on the chinese cooking skills? That’s just plain mean!
    And no, you can’t bank karma so you had better go to 2 yoga classes today. Actually, make that 3 since no one knew you can cook Chinese.

  • jack
    January 16, 2006 8:03am

    Ooh Siomai! Sui Mai, Wontons, etc.
    You should try Pancit Molo. Drop those beauties in chicken broth for a tasty wonton soup! Yum

  • January 17, 2006 1:00pm

    Thank you for including that you can eat the meatballs without the wanton wrappers. I live in a gluten-free world and these sound divine.

  • Véronique
    February 3, 2006 1:00pm

    I’ve prepared them and was amazed to see that they turned really well – I had a dumpling phobia until then, being usually laughed at by my Japanese friends when we do some gyoza (=wonton) parties, mine always looking… different. Now I’m healed. Thank you!

  • tokyoite
    February 6, 2006 11:53am

    I must admit I’ve never seen siu mai made quite like that before!

    As far as I’m concerned, most dishes taste better with a splash of Vietnamese nuoc mam (better than the Thai version; trust me!).

  • Wendy
    September 2, 2010 6:07am

    Umm . . . who is Bruce Cost?

    And by the way, my mom also says that hand-chopping the pork also makes it taste better – I didn’t quite believe her but now that you’ve mentioned it . . .

    As usual, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!

  • September 2, 2010 9:39am
    David Lebovitz

    Bruce Cost was the owner of Monsoon restaurant in San Francisco, where I worked, and now does the food at Big Bowl in Chicago. He is the author of Big Bowl Noodles and Rice cookbook and Asian Ingredients, a guide to the foodstuffs of China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.