It's hard to improve on perfection — which, to me, is what homemade dumplings are. Biting into each package of savory meat and fragrant vegetables wrapped in dough presents a concert of intermingling flavors and textures. They're synonymous with reunion and festivity in my mind; because the cooking process can be labor-intensive, many families, including mine, usually reserve them for special occasions.
But, it turns out that even dumplings can be embellished — with aromatic dipping sauces to dunk them into. A flavorful dipping sauce can be the ultimate cherry on top, the icing on the cake, of an already impeccable meal. It should accentuate the flavors of the main dish without overpowering them, infusing the meal with added dimension without stealing the show.
There are endless ingredient combinations that can come together to produce an exquisite sauce. I'm sharing three of my favorites. One is simple and classic, a combination of fruity black vinegar and warming ginger. The second is umami-rich, bathing dumplings in the savory brine of soy sauce and the heat of chile oil, balanced out with a bit of sugar. The last sauce coats dumplings in the earthy flavor of toasted sesame, in both its oil and paste forms.
Different dumpling fillings and varieties may pair better with different sauces. For example, xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, are customarily served with vinegar and ginger. Traditional half-moon-shaped dumplings with fillings like pork and cabbage, or beef and scallion, would likely dip best into something soy sauce-based. Delicate, mild-flavored wontons can be drizzled with a rich sesame sauce for contrast.
Whichever sauce you choose to pair with your dumplings, it's difficult to go wrong. If the dumplings are good, a tasty sauce should only make them shine brighter.
Simple Vinegar Dumpling Sauce
2 tablespoons black vinegar
1 tablespoon ginger, julienned
To a condiment saucer, add black vinegar and ginger. Serve alongside dumplings.
Spicy Soy Dumpling Sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon chile oil
2 teaspoons black vinegar
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
To a small bowl, add soy sauce, chile oil, black vinegar, toasted sesame oil, sugar and garlic. Mix well, then pour into a condiment saucer. Serve alongside dumplings.
Sesame Dumpling Sauce
1½ tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon black vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon scallion, sliced
To a small bowl, add toasted sesame oil, toasted sesame paste, soy sauce, black vinegar and sugar. Mix well, then pour into a condiment saucer. Garnish with scallion. Serve alongside dumplings.
Here are some of our favorite dumpling recipes:
Pork and Chinese Cabbage Pot Stickers by Hsiao-Ching Chou
Short Rib Pan-Fried Dumplings by May Chow
Meaty Dumplings (Korean Mandu) by Judy Joo
Chinese Sausage, Shiitake and Garlic Chive Dumplings by Jenny Dorsey