What is siu mai
Siu mai (pronounced ‘sju mai’) is a Chinese dumpling with a pork filling wrapped in an extra thin wonton and steamed. The wrapper is not completely folded so the filling can be seen from above. There is often an orange topping, sometimes crab roe, sometimes grated carrot. Siu mai is served without dipping sauce.
Siu mai, also known as shumai, literally means ‘cooking and selling’. The name shows that it was originally a restaurant dish, something to sell, not to make at home. Siu mai were first prepared and sold in teahouses along the Silk Road, where hungry salesmen stopped for tea. More than a thousand years ago, siu mai was already an important part of dim sum, a meal consisting of several small dishes.
Siu mai is still an indispensable dim sum snack. In fact, it’s one of the Guangdong Big Three, a well-known trio of dim sum found in many Cantonese restaurants – along with ha kau, a dumpling with shrimp filling and cha sieuw bao, a steamed pork sandwich. In modern China, siu mai is also eaten as a snack.
Did you know?
Cantonese master chefs use the best ingredients in their siu mai. The quality of the meat is essential.
East versus west
Siu mai has many local and international variations. In Shanghai the dough pockets are filled with sticky rice. Other examples of Chinese fillings are scallops and shrimps (without pork). The filling can be further enhanced with extra ingredients such as bamboo shoots, water chestnuts or shiitakes.
How to make siu mai?
The wonton pocket can be made fresh – from wheat flour, eggs, salt and water – or, as many Chinese do, be bought ready-made.
The meatball is supposed to be juicy and stay juicy. The secret? In addition to minced pork, extra pork fat is added. The mix also brings flavours such as ginger, garlic, sesame oil, white pepper and Shaoxing rice wine to the table – the exact ingredients vary from chef to chef. Often soy sauce is added to the meat filling to increase the umami flavour.
The wonton is folded around the meatball with the top remaining open. The bottom is slightly flattened so that they stand neatly upright.
A steaming basket is covered with baking paper or cabbage leaves, so that the dumplings do not stick. The siu mai are steamed in it for about five to ten minutes. If necessary, a topping of grated carrot – for the colour – is steamed with them. If the chef chooses a topping of crab roe, it will be added just before serving.