My heart raced as the looming stress of starting my first dissertation chapter caused me to stare blankly at my laptop screen. A savory aroma wafted through the air, and I glanced to see my roommate folding dough around ground meat, using a technique she learned from her Chinese grandmother. Heat escaped the bamboo basket as she lifted the lid and kindly offered me a freshly steamed dumpling. Though they were a far cry from the bowls brimming with my Texan grandma’s creamy chicken and biscuit dumplins’, they similarly relaxed my nerves, comforting me despite the constant stress of graduate school. 

From momos to xiao long bao, these pockets of minced meat or vegetables enveloped in dough are universally appealing, not only offering solace after a tough day but serving as windows into diverse cultures who eat dumplings for both everyday and special occasions. 

Never turn down an offer for homemade dumplings, but if a craving strikes when you’re on the go, restaurants around the Triangle are turning out stellar versions. 

Taiwanese Dumplings: When picturing Asian dumplings, these pleated parcels are the variety that comes to mind for me. Sophia Woo, co-owner of Raleigh’s MOFU Shoppe, exclusively serves this style of dumpling in her restaurant, following her beloved generations-old family recipe. Their plumped horn shape represents prosperity, as it closely resembles the gold ingots used as currency during the Ming Dynasty. Woo deems these pockets everyday dumplings as their preparation and consumption bring families together on any occasion. However, many Chinese families still enjoy them on holidays like Lunar New Year and may even hide a coin inside one of the dumplings, so one person receives an extra dose of luck. 

Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings): Sipping tea while sharing dim sum dishes like xiao long bao is an ideal way to spend a weekend morning. Popular in Southeast China, these dumplings contain a congealed meat filling that dissolves into a soup once steamed in a bamboo steamer. Placing one on a wide spoon and breaking the thin skin releases the soup onto the spoon. They’re also one of the most popular dumplings at Raleigh’s Brewery Bhavana, which  chef Chun Li calls delicious and adorable (xiao means small). While she first learned how to create this complex circular dumpling from online tutorials, she perfected the technique by interviewing the general manager of Shanghai’s renowned Nanxiang restaurant, whose family members have made soup dumplings for generations. 

Momos: In Nepal, momos—pleated dumplings stuffed with vegetables or meats such as chicken or buffalo—are a common street food snack. Because of their crescent shape, I thought momos would taste similar to Chinese steamed dumplings, but a bite revealed a dense interior blended with curry spices. When I first ate the jhol momo dish at Kathmandu Kitchen in Cary, I realized why Nepalese families convene over these dumplings whenever a craving or rainy day hits. Slurping the jhol, or spicy broth, elevates the flavor of the momos and has the ability to not only soften the thick outer layer, but my general disposition.

Samosas: I used to only perceive samosas as having a starring role in Indian food, occasionally making a cameo on Pakistani or Nepalese menus. But after a recent dinner at Zweli’s in Durham, I discovered that several African cuisines include samosas, too. Chef-owner Zweli Williams grew up in Zimbabwe eating samosas both at home and at restaurants. After observing the distinct takes on the flavors and fillings at neighborhood cafes, she devised her own recipe. Williams’s soft, yet crispy dough is nothing more than a humble flour tortilla, and the filling combines curried onions, garlic, peas, and potatoes with her signature piri piri spices, and either beef or vegetables. Unlike Indian versions served with chutneys, Williams serves her samosas plain to showcase the flaky pastry and spiced filling.

Pierogis: These semi-circular dumplings popular in Central and Eastern Europe involve stuffing carbs into more carbs, so I imagine that they deliver a meta-dose of comfort. John Korzekwinski, chef-owner of J. Betski’s in Raleigh, seems to agree. Korzekwinski first learned the art of pierogi making from his family and attributes the dense texture of the dough to the addition of sour cream. First timers can experience the “Old World” by selecting traditional fillings like potato and cheese or sauerkraut. Though pierogis function as an everyday staple, they also enjoy a prime spot on holiday menus. As a result, Korzekwinski may feature elevated ingredients like oxtail and lobster, or dessert varieties that include sweet cheese or fruit. As a nod to our locale, Korzekwinski even makes pierogis filled with Carolina barbecue and tangy vinegar sauce.