We spent Monday evening with some students and their parents. Usually it’s the fathers who initiate dinners, but this invitation came from two of the mothers of students that I have been teaching for the last year. Since they don’t live too far away, and Monday was one of the coldest winter days that we have had in a long time, they kindly offered to come pick Elijah and I up. When Justin was done at work, he met us there. The home we went to was clearly set up for a ten year old, and for the first hour I had to anticipate Elijah’s every move and keep hiding things from him. I’d see him look across the room, and immediately I’d have to jump up and go pack something away. We have noticed a huge cultural difference in the way that Westerns (or at least us, and our close friends) and Chinese parent their children. One of the biggest differences is that we don’t seem to “hover” over our kids as much. So it’s safe to say that this house might have been set up the same way if there was a toddler living there, but we like to sit back and relax, allowing Elijah to explore without breaking anything or hurting himself. Constantly running after a child is just too draining – so we prefer not to do it, but sometimes we end up in a place where we have to.
Once all of the breakables, chokables, and other potentially risky items were out of reach, we were able to settle in. The Chinese mothers worked away in the kitchen while we played with the kids in the lounge. We had a chance to make a couple of jiaozi and shao-mai, and then, when they were all cooked, we sat down around the table to enjoy dinner together.
The first time that Justin and I made jiaozi in China was back in 2012, when we live in dusty old Dongying. There we are, on the left, filling, folding, and admiring our first jiaozi.
That was a similar situation to this one, in that some of our students had invited us over to their home, just before Chinese New Year, to learn how to make Chinese dumplings. On Chinese New Year’s Eve (Spring Festival), making and eating Jiaozi is a tradition in the north of China. At this time, all members of the family will get together to make and enjoy them. Making this special food involves a number of steps but it is simple, and a wonderful way to bring a family together.
Jiaozi are a kind of Chinese dumpling, commonly eaten across Eastern, Central, Southern and Western Asia. Though considered part of Chinese cuisine, jiaozi are often eaten in many other Asian countries.
Jiaozi typically consist of a ground meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped into a thinly rolled piece of dough, which is then sealed by pressing the edges together or by crimping. Jiaozi should not be confused with wonton, jiaozi have a thicker skin and a relatively flatter, more oblate, double-saucer like shape (similar in shape to ravioli), and are usually eaten with a soy-vinegar dipping sauce (and/or hot chili sauce); while wontons have thinner skin and are usually served in broth. The dough for the jiaozi and wonton wrappers also consist of different ingredients.
There were a number of other items on the menu for the evening. We also had shrimp, spicy stir-fried beef and vegetables, and salad. We were surprised when two bottles of wine appeared on the dining room table. It is usually the Chinese men who initiate the drinking. We assumed that they might just open one bottle and we would have a glass each. Oh how wrong we were! One of the mothers was not drinking so Justin and I shared those two bottles with the other mother. If you have been to a Chinese dinner, then you will know – there are many toasts, cheers, and lots of encouragement to take big sips so that your glass can be refilled.
Above bottom right, that is strips of pig’s skin boiled and then set in some sort of gelatin/ fat. Needless to say, we didn’t eat it. We offered it to Elijah since he practically eats anything that we give him, but he spat it out immediately. The Chinese mothers not laughed!
After a ton of snacks, I was surprised that Elijah still wanted dinner. He really likes dumplings – and there were a lot of them – so he dived right into the dinner. With no high chair, it was easier to just feed him ourselves. We wouldn’t want to scare these Chinese folks but letting them see how we allow Elijah to feed himself at home. Let’s just say that there’d be a big mess, and without a proper chair for him to sit in, he’d carry his food all over the place. He likes to walk and eat!
We had the opportunity to make and try a different type of dumpling. Above, 烧卖 shāomài, also called pork dumplings (although often other types of dumplings could also be filled with pork), is a type of traditional Chinese dumpling served as dim sum. Huhhot Shaomai is a regional variety in Huhhot, Inner Mongolia, where Shaomai is considered to have originated. We really loved these ones! The wrapping is a very thin, round sheet of unleavened dough, with a pleat border. There is only one kind of filling, which mainly consists of chopped or minced mutton, scallion and ginger. The filling is put in the center of the wrapping and the border of the wrapping is loosely gathered above, forming a “neck” and a flower shaped top. It is then cooked by steaming or pan-frying. Our host was from Inner Mongolia so she was proud to present us with one of the traditional foods from where she was born.
Dinner never really ends when you’re with Chinese friends. We stayed at the table, picking from the dishes that lay in front of us, and drinking lots of wine. The kids went to play in the lounge, and of course, Elijah got lots of attention. He also got to pet a bunny, play the piano, and rearrange everyone’s shoes twenty times.
After pulling on the table cloth that covered the piano, and shattering a vase, Elijah decided to turn some boots into substitute vases. How very kind of him to offer the replacement!
This was a good evening with Chinese friends, and we are grateful for their hospitality.