Chang Family Homemade Dumplings 張家自製水餃

Chinese dumpling has a particular name because of its shape. Do you think it looks like this object? Yes! We parallel it to the appearance of the ancient treasure and call it “Golden ingot 金元寶.” It is also one of the essential foods for Chinese New Year. The analogy is simple — you get what you eat. Once the dumpling is inside of you, you have confined your wealth.

Dumplings have worldwide fame as Chinese food now, but when I was a kid, although my family had it regularly, it was exotic for Taiwanese people. To understand why, I have to explain how my parents, and many couples like them, got married. Taiwanese people saw new immigrants from China as the “other race” at that time, neglecting the fact that their ancestors emigrated from China two hundred years ago. Thus, my parents were considered a “mixed-race” couple. My father, who was from China, married my mother who was born in Taiwan, in 1954. Many Taiwanese parents, my mother’s included, wouldn’t allow their daughters to marry a Chinese man for these reasons: one, to comprehend varieties of provincial dialects was extremely problematic; two, the grievance towards KMT’s February 28 massacre in 1947 still lingered in people’s minds. Against all the odds, many Chinese men, including my father, successfully married a local woman. Mostly, the awkward marriages were eventually accepted, and in many cases, the couples lived happily ever after. Four other families that shared the same courtyard with ours, two were “mixed-race”: one was Taiwanese, and the other was Chinese.

The Chinese new immigrants’ provincial accents were hard to comprehend, but the food they brought in was widely welcome. Taiwanese only ate rice, whereas dumplings were popular for Northern Chinese whose primary source of carbohydrate was flour. Thanks to my neighbors who were from north China, they taught my parents how to make northern dishes such as noodles, green onion pancake, buns, and everyone’s favorite: dumplings.

Dumpling making required preparation. I was familiar with the prelude. First, my mother mixed water in a big pot of flour and made it into a dough, on which she dusted extra flour, then thoroughly kneaded it on a big wooden board. The dough would become as round as a basketball before she covered it with a damp towel and put it away. Secondly, she prepared the filling. The main ingredient was ground pork. I had to mention the butcher vendor in front of our house. By the street, the butcher couple was selling fresh pork. They were my mother’s good friend. After they closed the stand, they came into my house for a chat and often stayed for lunch under my mother’s insistence. Every day they brought in some good pork with a discount price, or sometimes free. My mother mixed the ground pork with some soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt, then put it away. Then she had to prepare the vegetable. We always had cabbage. She first soaked two big heads in a big basket, then chopped them into small pieces. The chopping was annoying because it seemed to take forever, and the tiny pieces got all over the place. After the cabbage was all chopped up, she mixed it with some salt, waited for twenty minutes, then squeezed the juice out. She liked to add some ginger and green onion to enhance the flavor. When the pork and vegetable were blended well together, it was time to make the dumpling.

The dumpling-making was festive and party-like. It happened in our tiny kitchen facing the courtyard. My two neighbors, whom we called “mama (mother)” following their last names, gathered around the big board. Gu-mama rolled the dough into wrappers. Bai-mama wrapped the filling and completed a dumpling. Making wrappers required a sophisticated skill — with one hand operating the roller and the other turning the wrapper in the circle. Gu-mama finished one beautiful wrapper — thick in the middle and thin at the edge, evenly 3 inches in diameter — within 8 seconds. Bai-mama shaped a dumpling in 5 seconds. I always observed their action as though it was an incredible show. I tried to learn the skill from Gu-mama but gave up on its difficulty. How I do it was not qualified to the professional standard — I press the roller with two hands and flatten the dough into the same thickness. While the mamas were working, my mother prepared a big pot of water on the stove and hand washed clothes in the meantime. My next door neighbor Liu-mama would quit her chores and join the chit-chat at which she liked to brag about how much money she saved from food and household spending, while the other mamas recalled their Ma-Jiang games, regretting a wrong strategy and planning a better one.

When the water boiled, mom would drop thirty-something dumplings into the pot, then separated them carefully not to break them. When the water boiled again, she poured one bowl of cold water in it to cool down the temperature. After adding two more times of cold water, the dumpling would float up. Using a big strainer, she scooped the dumplings out and placed them on a big tray.

It was an exciting moment now. Mom would call us up and after many wows and a few minutes, the tray became empty. The neighbor mamas always looked at us unbelievably, remarking in their incredible tone, “Lao Bao (my dad’s nickname used in his circle.) was so capable of raising these hungry kids!” When the aroma spread through the courtyard, more neighbors came over to express their adoration. Eventually, mamas produced more than 200 dumplings that would last for two meals for us and enough for mom to share with neighbors.

When my siblings were old enough to help, making dumplings became a family factory on the weekend. I would chop the vegetable, mom or dad would knead the dough and make wrappers. All my brothers and sisters would do the wrapping. Everyone had their unique way of wrapping so that the dumpling would come out in different shapes. My little sisters liked to make it into some weird things. Mom said it didn’t matter because they would all disappear in our stomachs. She also said, “Without you all, we couldn’t make so many dumplings!” Our work was appreciated, and our tummies were full. The day was even more satisfying when we got to snack on the leftover all day long.

My lunch box was always two times bigger than other girls’. You can imagine how embarrassing it was for me to eat from such a big lunch box! I protested all the time, but my mother ignored it, saying that it was nonsense that I was trying to be on a diet. There was a service at that time where people picked up lunch boxes from homes and deliver them to schools. My classmates loved my daily hot fresh lunch box. They gathered to check it when I opened the lid. Some days when I saw I got two but one lunch boxes, then I knew there were dumplings tightly packed inside. My mother knew that my classmates would be eagerly wanting to have some, and she let me share. When my classmates saw the dumplings, they would let out the cheer, and we would have a happier-than-usual meal time.

For decades, I have made dumplings using my mother’s recipe, which not only soothed my homesickness but also produced the most delicious dumplings for us. My daughters have learned the skill and liked to make it whenever they have time. I am glad that the tradition has been passed on. As I have kept my sweet memory, they will, too.

因為它的形狀的關係,中國餃子還另有個特別的名稱。它的模樣是不是和這張圖片很相似呢?是的,我們也把它叫做「元寶」。元寶是純金鑄造,古時候最貴重的錢錠。傳統上餃子是過農曆新年的必備食物,為什麼呢?道理很簡單,吃什麼就得什麼,一旦餃子進了肚子,你就把財富守住了!

餃子是出名的中國食物,但是在我小時後的台灣,它可是有如外國食品般的少見。要了解其中的原因,先讓我解釋我的父母結婚的背景。台灣人在二次世界大戰之後,幾乎把從中國撤退來的人視為「外來人種」,忽視了自己的祖先也是兩三百年前從中國移民到台灣的事實。我父親是大陸人,他和台灣出生的媽媽的婚姻,就好像異族通婚一樣。台灣女人要嫁給大陸男人的例子不算少,但是總是被女方家長反對。反對原因大約是:第一:語言不通,濃重的各省鄉音真是難懂。第二:台灣人的心中對1947年國民黨造成的二二八屠殺事件,仍然含恨在心。我爸爸像很多大陸男人一樣,克服了各種困難,終於娶了台灣女人為妻。幸好,他們大部份都被女方家庭接受了,也成就了白頭到老的幸福婚姻。我們院子裡的的四戶鄰居,有兩家是和爸媽一樣的「本省/外省」婚姻,一家是台灣夫妻,一家是大陸夫妻。

雖然大陸人的鄉音不好懂,他們帶來的鄉菜倒是廣受歡迎。台灣人傳統上只吃米飯,但是大陸的北方人則以麵粉食品為主食,餃子是他們常吃的東西。我們的北方人鄰居,教了我爸媽做各種麵食:麵條、蔥油餅、包子、當然,還有最受歡迎的餃子。

做餃子需要事前準備。我常看著媽媽做:首先,她把麵粉和了水,在大木板上揉好了一個籃球大的麵團,用布蓋上在旁邊放著。其次,她開始準備內餡。最重要的內餡食材是豬攪肉。我得先介紹一下我們的豬肉來源。在我們家門前的路邊,有一對夫妻擺了一個豬肉攤,天天賣著當天屠宰的新鮮豬肉。他們是爸媽的好朋友,每天收攤了,就到我們家和媽媽聊天,也常應媽媽的邀請,留下來和我們一起吃午餐。他們總是會給媽媽留下特別好的肉,有時特別打折,有時是免費贈送。媽媽把豬肉和了醬油,白芝麻油,與鹽,放一旁醃著。之後,她要準備蔬菜,我們總是用兩大顆包心菜。先要把菜在大砧板上剁細,灑上鹽,醃個二十分鐘,再把菜汁擠乾。這道手續很是煩人的,因為剁菜時那菜屑到處噴飛,難以收拾。最後,媽媽喜歡加入薑末,醬油,和豬肉包心菜餃拌起來,更有鮮味。到此,餡料完成了,就等著包上餃子皮了。

我們家包餃子的場面,可是很像開派對一樣熱鬧。我們有兩位鄰居,一位是古媽媽,一位是白媽媽,她們天天準時到我家的廚房報到,和媽媽聊天。若是碰巧要包餃子,她們就圍著砧板開始動工。古媽媽桿著麵皮,擀麵皮是要高度技巧的,古媽媽右手擀皮,左手把皮朝反時鐘方向旋轉,大概八秒鐘她就擀出一張外圈薄而中心厚的皮來。白媽媽把餡兒包入皮裡,五秒鐘就完成了一個漂亮的餃子。我學不來古媽媽的方法,只能平擀出內外一般厚的皮。媽媽燒一鍋熱水在爐上,就去洗衣服。我的隔壁鄰居劉媽媽總是丟下她的家事,過來說東道西,她最喜歡誇口她節省了多少食物、家用;而另外兩位媽媽則喜歡討論她們的麻將經:哪裡打錯了牌,應該怎麼打才對等等。

 

當水煮開了,媽媽把三十多個水餃丟下鍋去。她用勺子攪動分開它們,但要小心不要把它們給弄破了。水開了,她就加入一碗冷水降溫,以防煮破了皮。加水三次後,餃子都浮起來了,就表示熟了。她用一個勺子把餃子撈起來,放在大盤子上。

接下來就是興奮時刻。媽媽叫孩子們都來趁熱吃了,一片驚呼歡叫,數分鐘之後,那盤子已經被一掃而空。那些鄰居媽媽們總是很不可置信的看著我們這群狼吞虎嚥的孩子們,說:「老保(我爸爸的朋友們叫他的綽號)真能幹,有辦法養這班餓虎虎的孩子!」餃子香飄四處,吸引來更多好奇的鄰居,他們驚讚著我們的成果。每次包出兩百多個餃子,足夠我們吃兩餐,又有多餘可以讓媽媽送給鄰居分享。

當我們孩子們稍大了,這個包餃子活動就好像週末的家庭工廠。我負責剁蔬菜,爸媽揉麵擀皮,兄弟姐妹們都來包餃子。我們每個人包的形狀都不同,我妹妹喜歡把它們弄成怪樣子。媽媽說沒關係,反正全都是吃到肚子裡,誰也見不著。她總還說:「沒有你們幫忙,我們做不了這們多餃子來!」我們的幫忙得到爸媽的肯定,肚皮也填飽了,更好的是,整天都有餃子當零食吃,這天過得特別快樂。

我的便當盒總是比別人大兩倍,你可以想像在學校吃飯時,我是多麼的不好意思。我常常因此對媽媽抗議,她卻不理會,說我要減肥是沒道理的。那時候在市區裡,有專人到家收便當送到學校的服務,因此,我每天中午都有熱騰騰的便當吃。我的同學最愛看我帶了什麼東西,如果當天送來兩個便當,我知道裡面一定是餃子。媽媽知道我的同學一定會想要嚐嚐看,所以她就帶兩個便當好讓我和同學們分享。我的朋友看到餃子,樂得歡叫連連,高興萬分地和我一起享用那頓豐盛的午餐。

幾十年來我一直用媽媽的方法做餃子,它不只慰藉我對父母家鄉的思戀,也讓我們享用了最美味的餃子。我的女兒們已經學得家傳食譜方法,只要有時間,她們就自己做來解饞。我很高興這個傳統有了傳承,就像我懷念過往一樣,她們將來也會保存著一段包餃子甜美的回憶。

 

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