I made Chinese dumplings. Sort of. I made something that tastes a whole lot like Chinese dumplings, using locally-available ingredients.
The short recipe is:
pumpkin, boiled and mashed
green and white onions, chopped
island cabbage, chopped
Sautee all the not-cooked ingredients together then mix them into the pumpkin mash. That’s the filling.
Mix them all together until they make dough. Roll the dough really, really thin. Fill with filling. Drop in boiling water for about 5 minutes.
I don’t have better measurements because I no longer use them. I don’t have a measuring cup and the lines have rubbed off my nalgene. I just throw things in pots until it looks like what I think it ought to look like.
The first time I made these, my volunteer neighbor Hannah was visiting. The guys at the nakamal spotted us walking in and out of the kitchen over and over. They’ve learned that when I keep going and coming from the kitchen, it means I’m cooking something bizarre.
Danny has sat and watched me cook before, usually with comments like, “That’s going in there, too??” He came down to see what I’d throw in the pot this time. Because he was there, it was safe for Kipsom to come, too. (They only travel in packs.) I started stuffing the dumplings about the same time that Wata stopped by, just to say hi.
My kitchen is not large. It is maybe eight feet by twelve feet with a roof that slopes down to waist height at the walls. There were five of us, the food and a fire in that room. It was smoky. The guys were still more interested in watching me than going back up and storying in the nakamal. This is whiteman TV at its finest.
While I was cooking the dumplings, they were busy telling me how to cook them. This is classic ni-Van. When I do things they have never seen before, they will spend the whole time telling me how to do it. This time, they were telling me how to build the fire, how many dumplings to put in, how long to cook them for and how to tell if they were done. None of them even know what dumplings are. Sigh.
I pulled out the first batch and put them on a plate to cool. I put the next batch in and grabbed one to try it. All three of them stared at me. I dipped it in soy sauce. They stared. I took a bite. They stared. I ate my bite. They stared. I dipped it back in the soy sauce. They stared. I took another bite. They stared. I finished the dumpling. They stared. Then I passed the plate over to them.
I don’t understand a lot of local language, but I didn’t need words to understand the ensuing game of “you first” that happened. The three of them spent a good five minutes arguing about who was going to try them first. I ate another dumpling. Hannah had a dumpling. We waited for them to finish their game of not it.
Wata lost. He very, very hesitantly tried a nibble off of a corner. It didn’t kill him so he tried a bigger bite. Two bites later he declared it tasty. Danny screwed up his courage and tried it, doing almost exactly the same thing. Finally, Kipsom had to. It took him another two minutes of sitting there thinking about it to do it. Once he started, he finished the whole thing.
I think that was my goal 2 work for the month. (Goal 2 of the Peace Corps is sharing American culture with host country nationals.) Even if they were Chinese dumplings, getting them to try food that was so far out of their comfort zone was enough. They even liked it, I think.