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Swallowing clouds in water

Updated: 2011-10-17 11:31
By Donna Mah ( China Daily)
Swallowing clouds in water

Wonton goes with noodles and is served in soup. Donna Mah / for China Daily

Hong Kong

Cantonese wontons are an incredibly popular snack or small meal choice for many people. The wrappers are thin and square and filled with fatty pork and large pieces of shrimp. The shrimps must be crunchy and not soft or mushy. And when they are cooked, the dumpling wrappers should float in the broth like little clouds - justifying the colloquial name of "won ton" or "swallowing the clouds".

In Hong Kong, wonton goes with noodles and are served in a clear broth made with pork bones and toasted dried flatfish that gives the soup its distinctive flavor. Often, thin noodles and a few slices of barbecued pork will accompany the dumplings, as well as a few stalks of blanched mustard greens.

There is also a larger Southern-style dumplings we call shui gow or "water dumplings".

These are filled with minced pork, bamboo shoots, black wood ear fungus, and small pieces of shrimp. The wrappers are oval and larger than those of the wonton dumplings. The use of bamboo shoots and wood ear fungus gives the shui gow a pleasant crunch amidst the sweetness of the meat and prawns.

When faced with my first shui gow, my mother had told me that the wrapper needed to be so thin that we could see the ingredients inside. Tentatively, I bit into the dumpling and discovered that whatever it was, it was tasty. I ended up eating shui gow almost daily for a couple of weeks before I stopped craving them.

Both wonton and shui gow are served all over in little shops that open early and close late, and these delicious dumplings, almost always in a clear broth, are eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner or supper.

Surprisingly, it is a woman who makes the Northern-style dumplings who have become a bit of a legend in Hong Kong.

The story goes that Madame Chong, Hong Kong's "dumpling queen", came here in the early 70s and made dumplings from a cart and sold them at the Wanchai Ferry Pier to support her two daughters. The popularity of her dumplings grew and she eventually started the Wanchai Ferry Peking Dumpling Company, whose products are now exported all over China and are recognized by their distinctive yellow packaging in local supermarkets.

Northern-style dumplings are normally simpler, with two main ingredients paired - such as pork and cabbage, pork and chives, pork and celery, pork and carrot, pork and pumpkin.