Growing up as an ABC (American Born Chinese), I did not know much about the history of Chinese culture or cuisines. The only thing I knew was that there are certain foods and desserts that are eaten on the Chinese holidays such as rice cake, fish, moon cake, chicken, noodle, and dumpling. Both my grandparents and parents moved from Hong Kong to the United States, and they do not remember the reasons why certain foods are eaten on some holidays. This is why I used the SFSU library to research about Chinese food.
After reading many articles and books on different types of Chinese cuisine, I decided to research about wontons because it is part of a dish that watched my mom successful make, which is called wonton noodle soup. I found out that wonton, originally from Northern China, are the most popular and well know dumpling. The history of wonton dates back to the Tang Dynasty. During this period, dumplings were very popular as a snack and were mainly eaten by the emperor and empress.
The popularity of dumplings led to the creation of the wontons and even though they look very similar to dumplings, the two are easy to differentiate. Wontons are made with a thin layer of dough, and the meat is pork mixed with seasoning and other ingredients such as shrimp, mushroom, or vegetables. In comparison, dumpling’s dough is thick, and the meat varies from chicken, pork, beef or only vegetables.
According to Andrew Coe’s Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese food in the United States, wonton in mandarin is called Huntun, and it means “chaos” because the wrapping of the dough is scrunched up together. However, in Cantonese wonton means “swallowing cloud” because the shape and the way it floats in the broth reminds people of a cloud.
Wontons are a popular side dish in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Beijing, Shanghai and are eaten in a variety of ways. The most common way to eat wontons is in soup, because both the wonton and the broth make a savory taste. My grandparents and parents are from Hong Kong and enjoy eating wontons with soup. They told me that it is the cheapest food to eat and it fills people up especially eaten with noodles, thick rice noodle or thin egg noodles. In Hong Kong, the traditional way to eat it is with egg noodles because the texture is firm, spongy and goes well with the wontons and the simple soup base.
There are many different types of wonton because each region has their own variation. For example, my grandma and mom make Hong Kong’s traditional style wonton that uses yellow dough and the filling includes ground pork, yellow chives, and shrimp. The soup base is made from pork or chicken bone. However, in Shanghai the wonton’s dough is white and it is made only from flour. The meat is made from pork and bok choy, and the soup base is made from soy sauce, water and some seasoning.
Today the wonton noodle soup continues to be popular to many Chinese people, and it is not only found in China, but also throughout the United States. Researching about wontons reminded me of the time when my mom made wonton noodle soup.