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Everything to Know About the Difference Between Dumplings and Potstickers

For most of us, our understanding of dumplings doesn't go far beyond the dumpling soup we've had at our local Chinese restaurant. Maybe we've also had some gyoza appetizers at a Japanese restaurant, some Polish pierogi, and a plate of potstickers at another Asian restaurant. These are all delicious dishes involving dough wrapped around meat or veggies, but what's the difference? Here's how to distinguish between potstickers vs dumplings and everything in between.

What Are Dumplings?

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Dumplings have been around for nearly 2,000 years, and it's believed that they were invented by a healer or medical saint. As the legend goes, the man came back to his village during a harsh winter to see that the village was suffering from a sickness that made them more susceptible to frostbite. To treat them, he created a mixture of medicinal herbs, lamb, and black pepper, wrapping it in dough shaped like ears.

He then fed these to the villagers with a dish of hot soup. Because of his concoction, they healed from the sickness and stopped suffering from frostbite. Modern scientists hypothesize that the spices may have provided nutrients to support the villagers' immune systems and increase blood flow to the ears. No matter the science behind it, the dumplings did the trick, and the villagers were cured.

Dumplings can be defined as pieces of dough wrapped around meat or vegetable fillings. The dough can be made of bread, flour or potatoes, and the fillings can be essentially any combination. There are boiled dumplings, pan-fried dumplings, steamed dumplings or simmered dumplings depending on the recipe.

This broad category refers to any dish cooked this way, and can include African, European, American and Asian dumplings. Any food that involves dough wrapped around filling is a dumpling! So samosas, pierogies, gnocchi, and even ravioli fit into this category. Dumplings are typically eaten as an appetizer or side dish, but they can also be a main course.

You can find this yummy comfort food in many forms. Dim sum involves an especially thick type of Chinese dumpling, and wonton soup is a soup using dumplings that are specially made with a wonton wrapper. You can enjoy shrimp dumplings, ground pork dumplings or veggie dumplings based on your preferences.

What Are Potstickers?

Fried dumplings Gyoza on a plate on a gray concrete background

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Based on this definition, potstickers are yet another form of dumplings. Potstickers, also called jiaozi, are what most people think of when it comes to an Asian dumpling or Chinese dumpling, and these are most often found at Chinese restaurants and in grocery stores. Although many dumplings around the world are cooked to be round, potstickers are typically a half-moon shape with lightly pinched tops.

Potstickers are a traditional food for the Chinese New Year, but they're also a tasty treat enjoyed throughout the year in Asian cooking.  These delicious dumplings are usually filled with ground meat and combo of vegetables, which is rolled into a very thin dough wrapper. The edges of the dough are then sealed or pinched together.

Potstickers are typically steamed, boiled or pan-fried, and they can be served on their own, with soups, or with dipping sauce. The dipping sauce can be as simple as soy sauce, or it can be a concoction consisting of vinegar and sesame oil.

Although no one knows the exact history of potstickers, one charming story is that a chef of China's Imperial Court invented them by accident. As the story goes, he was making dumplings and he walked away for too long. Then he returned to the wok, all the water was boiled off, and the dumpling was crispy and stuck to the wok. They say that this where the name "potsticker" comes from.

Differences Between Potstickers vs Dumplings

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One of the main differences between potstickers vs dumplings is that potstickers are made with an especially thin wrapper, so thin that it's almost translucent. Dumplings, on the other hand, can be made with a number of different doughs of varying thicknesses.

Another distinction is that potstickers are classically steamed or pan-fried, although they can also be boiled. Overall, potstickers are their own variation within the wide genre of dumplings. Aside from their subtle differences, both potstickers and dumplings are undeniably delicious!

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