Updated: Mar 12
Dear Asian Youth,
We all have foods that tie us to our cultures through memory, communication, and belonging. Maybe it’s the congee you eat after a holiday, or the lychee jellies your grandma used to buy from the Asian supermarket. Whatever that special memory is for you, food allows us to communicate with our family and connect to our cultures in unique ways. For me, this is my Auntie Min’s Christmas potstickers. For as long as I can remember, my family has eaten these for every special occasion that we get to see Auntie Min, which usually happens to be Christmas. These dumplings serve not only as a yummy annual treat for my family, but also as a ritual of communication and bonding that bridges gaps between different family members, whether those gaps be created by time, distance, generation, or language barriers.
For my family, potstickers are a Christmas food, but we eat them on other special occasions as well. My Auntie Min works in a garment factory in San Diego where there are very strict rules about days off. She usually does not have any days off except for major holidays, such as Christmas. No one in the family knows how to make potstickers without Auntie Min’s help and expertise, so we all must wait until she is available to visit us on Christmas. Sometimes we eat potstickers on other holidays as well. This past year, Auntie Min’s boss was mad that she had used too many sick days throughout the year and forced her to make up for it by working on Christmas Eve. This meant she would not have time to come to our home in Los Angeles for Christmas to make the dumplings, so she planned in advance to come for Thanksgiving instead. Some years it is Christmas, some it is Thanksgiving, and some it is Lunar New Year. To my family, the reason for celebration serves merely as an excuse to all spend time together and most importantly, to eat dumplings.
We make these potstickers at my house in Los Angeles, but Auntie Min brings all the ingredients with her from San Diego. While the dumpling skins come from the Asian supermarket, no one besides Auntie Min is quite sure what specifically goes into the filling of these dumplings. Unfortunately, Auntie Min does not speak English and cannot tell us the ingredients. However, when we ask her bilingual husband, my Uncle Hoy, he says the filling is always made from the ground pork mixed with many different vegetables Auntie Min grows in her garden, including cabbage, chives, and water chestnuts. It is different each year, depending on what she was able to grow in her garden, and therefore each dumpling is uniquely delicious and never quite the same as the previous year.
In preparing the potstickers, Auntie Min sets up a large bowl of filling with many teaspoons, plus an open stack of dumpling skins. She then sets both onto the table along with a small bowl of water. When she is ready to begin assembling the dumplings, she informs Uncle Hoy, who calls out for everyone to gather in the kitchen. From here, my parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, sister, and I all come and assemble the dumplings. We take a skin, dab the edge of it with water using our fingers, then scoop a heaping teaspoon of filling, which Auntie Min must approve with a gentle nod indicating if it is too much or too little. Then we fold the dumpling into a sort of crescent shape and carefully create folds to bring together the edges by tucking each fold under the last. We repeat this until we have hundreds of dumplings. Lastly, Uncle Hoy cooks all the dumplings by frying them in oil and then steaming them for a bit afterward to create the perfect balance of crispiness and softness.
A perfect potsticker will have even folds all across the top, but no one in my family is skilled enough to achieve this except for Auntie Min. My sister and cousin’s dumplings are usually so poorly assembled that they fall apart once Uncle Hoy tries to cook them on the frying pan. Everyone starts grabbing the dumplings the minute Uncle Hoy scoops them off the frying pan and onto a platter. They’