Decoding Dumplings in Taiwan

Steamed jiaozi are often shaped like crescent moons.

A guide to the differences among the many dishes confusingly all referred to as “dumplings” in English and some practical advice on how to rate a dumpling restaurant.


Served in a bamboo basket or piled up on a plate, dumplings are a staple favorite in Taiwan. They can be meaty, vegetarian, or even sweet as a sweet dessert item. Eating them is almost like a ceremony: mix a dipping sauce that suits your liking while you wait for the heat to dissipate to avoid toasting your tongue, pinch a dumpling between your chopsticks, and devour it as fast or as slow as you like. 

Ivy Chen, who runs the Ivy’s Kitchen cooking school in Taipei, has been teaching foreigners how to cook Taiwanese and Chinese dishes for over two decades, and is often asked by her students to include a lesson in dumpling making. Although dumplings (like other wheat-based foods) were not originally a central part of Taiwanese cuisine, they have been widely embraced here. After being adapted to local tastes over the decades they are now “a kind of hybrid version” of Taiwanese and Chinese flavors, Chen says. In her opinion,  the resulting dumplings “are more elegant, fresh, and umami,” referring to a rich, savory taste that lingers in the mouth. 

The English word “dumpling” does not do justice to the bewildering array of Chinese “dumplings” out there. Most often the word is applied to what is known in Chinese as jiaozi (餃子). Usually shaped like ingots to symbolize a desire for future prosperity, they are made using a thin dough wrapping, stuffed with fillings like chopped meat, vegetables, vermicelli, tofu skin, and mushrooms.  

Although the origin of jiaozi is contested, they are generally considered to originate from northern China, where the frigid temperatures call for hearty and warming dishes. In Taiwan, the food is closely associated with Lunar New Year and wintertime.  

Chen explains that there are three different types of jiaozi: boiled (水餃, shui jiao), fried (鍋貼, guotie, also known as potstickers), and steamed (蒸餃, zheng jiao). She adds that the types of jiaozi differ not only in cooking method but also in shape and the kind of dough used for wrapping.  

From left to right: Hangzhou Xiao Long Bao’s shumai, zheng jiao.

Boiled dumplings are made with wheat flour and room-temperature water, and they are more rounded in shape. Steamed dumplings and potstickers use hot water and wheat flour. “We need the skin to be softer for these two, so we partially cook them first with hot water before we make them,” Chen says. Steamed dumplings are often shaped like crescent moons, with many more crinkles in the curve, while potstickers are usually “long, straight, and flatter.” 

The white skins are at times replaced with an array of hues created by adding juices or colorings to the dough. Some natural colorings include orange (carrot juice), red (beetroot, tomato juice, or red yeast), and green (spinach juice). 

Things get even more complicated when dumpling-like dishes from the south of China are included. These include xiaolongbao (小籠包), shumai (燒賣, pronounced shaomai in Mandarin), and wontons (餛飩, pronounced hundun in Taiwan).  

A xiaolongbao is not actually a dumpling but rather a “bun” because yeast is added to the flour, partially raising the skin. Xiaolongbao, or “small basket buns,” are Shanghainese in origin. They are steamed and usually filled with pork in a juicy meat broth.  

Shanghai Master Shao’s xiaolongbao are well-stuffed, affordable, and tasty.

Shumai is a Cantonese dish and a common treat on a dim sum (點心, a range of small dishes) trolley. They are round shrimp and pork-filled dumplings with wrinkled sides and an open top. Wontons, like jiaozi, can be boiled, steamed, or fried, but they can also be served in a soup. Their skins usually include eggs along with flour and water, and they come in different shapes, usually more rounded with a small tail. They are particularly popular in Sichuan, where they are called chaoshou (抄手). Wontons can be eaten floating in a soup or dry and spicy. 

Chen offers some advice on how to pair sauces with these different varieties. “For jiaozi, I recommend using soy sauce and vinegar, with maybe a little sesame oil,” she says. “If you like it spicy, add ginger or garlic or chili sauce.” 

Xiaolongbao can be eaten in one mouthful after dipping, as long as they’ve been allowed to cool for a while. The sauce should be simpler, often a mixing of vinegar and ginger, although Chen says she feels “ginger is too strong for its delicate taste.” Chen would not add a sauce to shumai, but to those who insist, she recommends soy sauce with a bit of chili. Meanwhile, wontons do well on their own or paired with just a bit of chili sauce. 

Although she doesn’t go out for dumplings that often herself, Chen has some advice on what to look out for when choosing a place to sample them. “First, they should be very plump,” she says. “You want fat little dumplings full of filling.” The dough for boiled dumplings should be chewy and just a little bit al dente. Potstickers should be crispy but not too hard. 

Lastly, you can be sure the dumplings you’re eating are fresh if the establishment has an open kitchen enabling guests to watch the chefs pound out the wrappers in a cloud of flour. 

Diners at Hangzhou Xiao Long Bao can see their dumplings being made through the glass windows of the restaurant’s busy kitchen.

Taiwanese love to pair their dumplings with a bowl of suan la tang (酸辣湯, hot and sour soup), and you’ll often find this dish featured on the menus of dumpling joints. For a particular Taiwanese twist on the dumpling, Chen recommends the shui jing jiao (水晶餃, or crystal dumpling), which differs from traditional dumplings in that its translucent skin is made from sweet potato starch. 

There are thousands of establishments in Taipei to choose from for a dumpling feast, from fancy to casual. Here are some of the best and most interesting places in Taipei to enjoy the different types of dumplings with Chen’s “plump” and “open kitchen” tests in mind.  

Shanghai Master Shao  (上海邵師傅湯包) 

No. 31-1 Leli Rd., Daan District, Taipei   
Tel: (02) 2732-5148 

Cheap, cheerful, and creative, Shanghai Master Shao offers unorthodox xiaolongbao options. Try his crispy cheese xiaolongbao or buns with a mapo dofu (麻婆豆腐), loofah, or curry broth. Sadly, none of these funky flavors are vegetarian, so I opt for the steamed veggie soup dumplings. These are round, flat-bottomed, and well-stuffed. I catch sight of egg, tofu skin, chives, mushrooms, vermicelli, and soybeans inside, making for a much moister experience than jiaozi

Although the dumplings are cooked from frozen, they taste pretty good. An added bonus is that every item on the menu is around NT$100. The place is clean and simple, with wooden tables and nice decorative touches, such as bamboo steamer baskets hung on the walls. Service is friendly and fast. 

Do they pass the plump test? Yes 
Do they pass the open kitchen test? No 
Best for budget and novelty value 

Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) 

For locations, see 

Din Tai Fung is the “big daddy” of dumpling restaurants. After its Hong Kong branch was awarded a Michelin star in the 1990s, the chain has grown into an international brand with more than 170 branches in 13 countries.  

The original Taipei outlet on Xinyi Road only does takeaways these days, but Taipei still has about half a dozen dine-in branches, one across the road from the original site and another in the basement of Taipei 101. Chen recommends Din Tai Fung, “not because they taste the best in general,” but due to the chain’s excellent service and dining environment. 

On a rainy evening I head with a friend to Din Tai Fung’s Xinyi Road branch. We’re given a number and told to wait – a giant LED screen counts down the numbers and estimates the current waiting time. It says 30 to 45 minutes!  

Around half an hour later, our number is called. We’re led past the chefs working hard inside a glassed-in kitchen. The dining room has no windows and many empty tables. Since a few customers seem to have left before we were called, I assume kitchen capacity was the real reason for the wait. The décor is elegantly plain. The wait staff are impeccably polite and cover our bags with silky brown cloths – is it to protect them from the splashes of squirty xiaolongbao, I muse. 

Din Tai Fung’s menu can be accessed by scanning a QR code, which leads diners to the website. We don’t have phone reception inside the room, so we log onto the Wi-Fi, which floats in and out tantalizingly. Whenever we are close to finishing our order, the Wi-Fi winks out, and we must start again.  

The table is set with a silver teapot filled with fragrant tea, and we begin to cheer up. Our waiter asks us if we want our dipping sauces to be prepared for us. When we decline, he suggests vinegar with a dash of soy sauce. 

The only vegetarian dumpling option is the steamed vegetarian mushroom variety. It’s tasty but a bit on the skinny side. The pork and crab roe shaomai are supposedly legendary. For dessert, we order the chocolate xiaolongbao. Each one has a little whirlpool on the top. The chocolate filling is bitter, hot, and runny, like a small volcano. Powerful little packages, the chocolate dumplings are best for sharing. 

Do they pass the plump test? No 
Do they pass the open kitchen test? Yes 
Best for elegant service 

Hangzhou Xiao Long Bao’s xiaolongbao.

Hangzhou Xiao Long Bao  (杭州小籠湯包) 

No. 19, Hangzhou S. Rd., Section 2, Daan District, Taipei   
Tel: (02) 2393-1757 

No. 118, Minsheng E. Rd., Section 3, Songshan District, Taipei  
Tel: (02) 6613-0666 

A local favorite, Hangzhou Xia Long Bao is a noisy and lively space with clattering trollies, rowdy customers, and the cacophony of crockery. Diners mark their orders with a pencil on a piece of paper – there are no QR codes here, nor are there silky brown cloths. The dumpling makers can be seen working tirelessly in the open kitchen, banging about amid clouds of steam. Each basket costs around NT$200-300, cheaper than Din Tai Fung and without the long wait. Michelin recently awarded it a Bib Gourmand rating. 

I head to the original Hangzhou Road location. This time my dining partner is a meat eater. He orders the crab and pork xiaolongbao and claims to be in heaven. “The filling is juicy and meaty,” he says but lacks any other words to describe it – maybe because his mouth is full.  

My friend also gives high ratings to his pork and crab shumai – wrinkled yellow wrappers with a speckled topping of crab roe. My vegetarian zheng jiao are bursting out of their see-through skins. I pair them with a basket of mochi red bean paste buns. They are plump, chewy orbs, steaming hot and filled with a sweet, soft mash in delightfully doughy skin.  

This place is fast and furious, and before we know it, we’ve polished off all our baskets. 

Do they pass the plump test? Yes 
Do they pass the open kitchen test? Yes 
Best for dumplings, hands down

Dongmen Dumplings’ potstickers balance a crispy fried top with a soft dumpling filling.

Dongmen Dumplings  (東門餃子館) 

No. 37, Lane 31, Jinshan S. Rd., Section 2, Daan District, Taipei 
Tel: (02) 2341-1685 

My go-to dumpling place after a long day’s hike has always been Dongmen Dumplings, with fast and cheery service and 10 substantial dumplings to a basket. Always packed and lively, the entrance takes you past a burbling pond with fat orange and golden carp. The décor is Chinese-inspired, with bird cages and red lanterns, but unpretentious. Soy sauce, white vinegar, sesame oil, and garlic cloves are waiting on the table for you to make your preferred dipping sauce.  

I order veggie potstickers, which I pair with a chilled bottle of Taiwan Beer. The guotie are served up swiftly, 10 to a plate and arranged to look like an alien flower, their tips a toasted brown. Turn them over and you’ll find the other side white and glistening like squashed, boiled dumplings with an oily sheen.  

The potstickers pass the plump test, bursting with vermicelli and finely diced vegetables. The fried top provides a nice, crispy counterpart to the soft pillow of the dumpling belly. The overall effect is a tad greasy, but these dumplings are pan-fried, after all. 

Do they pass the plump test? Yes 
Do they pass the open kitchen test? No 
Best for potstickers  

Boji HK Style Restaurant  (波記茶餐廳) 

No. 8, Lane 70, Yanji St., Daan District, Taipei 
Tel: (02) 8773-1913 

A good wonton is hard to come by in Taipei, but you usually can’t go wrong with a Hong Kong eatery. Boji is a cheerful and cozy cha chaan teng (茶餐廳, Hong Kong-style diner) with quirky decorations, including kung fu movie posters, neon lights, and a rather electric green paint job.  

Boji’s shrimp wontons are served dry or in soup. My dining partner gives them a big thumbs up. “They are much nicer than Taiwanese versions, which are often soggy,” he says. “These have a firm texture, and I like the combination of a whole shrimp in a ground pork filling.” 

Do they pass the plump test? Yes 
Do they pass the open kitchen test? No 
Best for wontons