There seems to be a special meal in every culture (and every family) that invites all hands on deck and all hearts open to meaningful conversation amidst the preparation. For the Chinese side of our family, laughter and unity is shared around the making of jiaozi (known as gyoza in Japan and mandu in Korea), or Chinese dumplings. You may recognize its mainstream, pan-fried alias, the potsticker. Chinese families gather around the kitchen table at New Year or birthdays to participate in the lovingly laborious task of making jiaozi from scratch. My parents taught me to cook using no measurements excepts that of memory, taste, and intuition; but, our recipe looked something like this one here. Growing up, my brother and I would watch in amazement as the grownups swiftly rolled out the dough with one hand while deftly spinning the the disks of dough with the other hand, sculpting perfect circles of jiaozi skins. The finely chopped cabbage, scallions, ginger, and pork would form the filling that is then added to the center of each skin. Finally, with artistry, each dumpling is crafted into a folded crescent, plump and delicate. From there, batches are steamed, boiled or pan-fried, and offered hot with soy-vinegar-garlic-red chili dipping sauce. I always add a bit of brown sugar and sesame oil to my sauce as well.
Our family enjoyed a reunion around the island this past weekend during a rare, but special visit from my out-of-state parents. My brother commented that it had been years since we'd done this together as a family. And now, as he takes his post as agile skin-roller, and I as adept sculptor, we find ourselves in a circle of childhood banter once again, skimming only the best of our family history for the next generation's gathering in the kitchen.