kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
[personal profile] kake
A bamboo steamer basket with the lid propped ajar and four siu mai dumplings sitting inside.  Each dumpling is topped with a few cubes of carrot.

Next up in my August dim sum series is 燒賣, a type of open-topped dumpling. 燒賣 has various transliterations, some of which are listed on its Wikipedia page. In Mandarin it's shāo mài, though as I've mentioned before, dim sum menus generally use Cantonese transliterations — the ones I see most often are "siu mai" and "shu mai".

Slightly confusingly, siu mai often appear on menus as something along the lines of 蟹皇蒸燒賣 (xiè huáng zhēng shāo mài) or 蟹黃蒸燒賣 (xiè huáng zhēng shāo mài). The 蒸 (zhēng) in the middle simply refers to the fact that the siu mai are cooked by steaming, but the 蟹皇/蟹黃 part is a little more obscure — though for those who want the literal translations, 蟹 (xiè) is "crab", 皇 (huáng) is "imperial" or "emperor", and 黃 (also huáng) is "yellow".

However, the most common siu mai filling is pork-and-prawns, and often these very dishes are translated as either "pork and prawn dumplings" or just "pork dumplings". According to a thread on the CantoDict forums, the mention of crab simply refers to the fact that these dumplings are often topped with a dab of orange crab fat, while according to a comment from the ever-informative Mr Noodles, xiè huáng means crab roe, which is another common topping. I've also seen them topped with tiny cubes of carrot, as in the photo above, but this is pretty clearly just an attempt to save money while retaining something of the aesthetics.

燒賣 are easy enough to make at home; unlike many other dim sum items, the shaping is really very simple, due to the open-top shape. There's actually a specific kind of dough used to make the wrappers, but pre-made wonton wrappers work fine. Again in comments, Mr Noodles points out that wonton wrappers are used for Cantonese siu mai (pre-made ones are fine), while Shanghainese siu mai use a different, special kind of dough. The type you'll see in dim sum restaurants, at least in the UK, is the Cantonese style.

I have two recipes for pork-and-prawn siu mai: one from Sunflower (of Sunflower Food Galore) and one from Appetite For China. Note that Sunflower recommends a vigorous beating of the filling, to make it firmer, while Appetite For China skips this step. I'd additionally point out that I don't think using lean pork mince in this dish is the best idea — use the fattier stuff from the Chinese butcher, rather than the normal supermarket stuff, since it gives a better texture.

Finally, I recently found an interesting variation while browsing around on Flickr — vegan siu mai based on minced carrots. I haven't tried making these, nor have I ever seen anything similar in a restaurant, and mention them merely as an aside.

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

Date: 2010-08-11 11:43 am (UTC)
vampwillow: pile of sushi plates (sushi)
From: [personal profile] vampwillow
Given that (a) all these pictures of lo9vely-looking food are making me hungry, (b) I really need to get out more/again/once, and (c) there is no c, then I would love to come along one day in August if I may.


(sushi plate as it is the nearest icon I have to dim sum, even though it is the wrong nation)

Date: 2010-08-11 09:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eatlovenoodles.blogspot.com
Sometimes literal translations won't do! In this case xie huang means crab roe. BTW lean pork in any Chinese recipe is quite rare!

Date: 2010-08-11 09:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eatlovenoodles.blogspot.com
One more thing, Cantonese siu mai is made with wonton wrappers whereas the special dough you mention is more common in the Shanghai style siu mai. I've not seen the latter in the UK.

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