Release Date:October 08, 2009
Summary:Cute and clever culinary app that shows you how to make Chinese dumplings, with your own hands.
One of the best things about living in San Francisco is the culinary opulence that is Chinatown. The grand entrance on Grant Street at Bush is what many tourists are familiar with, its tall columns and green, ceramic tiles with a hanging sign Teen Hau Way Goong, meaning, “We all work under Heaven for the benefit of the common good,” bidding you welcome. There are other Chinatown centers, in the Richmond District and even extending all the way into North Beach. But, Grant Street is especially festive, with its ornate, restored architecture, street Mahjong games, herbal apothecary stores, and a tea tasting room called Vital Tea Leaf where I highly recommend the slightly sweet Blue People, a high mountain green tea dusted with ginseng powder that will awaken all your senses. Further down Grant you’ll eventually take a side street, seeing open markets with hanging roast, suckling pigs, fish with bloated opaque eyes of a kind you’ve never before seen, and strange, exotic foods that will either turn your stomach, or prick your adventurous palate (mooncakes, adzuki bean paste, and egg custards are surefire ways to tempt the unknown). What really creates Chinatown, though, are all the mysterious alleyways, like Hang Ah Alley, where I would frequently dine on some of the best, local Dim Sum. Lotus root pastes with shrimp dumplings, and those steamed pork buns with their gluey, glutinous white fluff exterior would put me in a food stupor, all for $3 or less.
Aside from the basic stir fry, I don’t know many people who actually engage in Chinese cooking. I think most people don’t know how, perhaps misguidedly thinking it’s too difficult to replicate at home, and with Chinese takeout tainting the cuisine as something completely convenient to buy. With stir fry, it seems personal interpretation means anything goes – I have a friend who asked if asparagus would be great in a stir fry otherwise flavored traditionally. It’s a stir fry, not a stew. A new app by BlueFir Media called Jiaozi Junkie, I think, is a great app for showing people how it is to make homemade Chinese food. To make learning more interactive, Jiaozi Junkie doesn’t use videos or rely solely on written instructions to teach you how to make a basic Chinese dumpling; instead, the app takes you on an interactive, animated course that will have you mixing dough ingredients, rolling out dough, pinching dumplings, and boiling them to eat. It’s really quite cute.
So what is a Jiaozi, anyway? Jiaozi are those delicious Chinese dumplings you often see clumped together in a dish and served with a dipping sauce of red chili oil, soy sauce, garlic, and sesame oil. Not to be confused with the more delicate wonton, Jiaozi are more similar to the Eastern European Pierogi, with their thick, chewy dough. They may be stuffed with an assortment of goodies, by typically feature only two ingredients, so as not to overwhelm the palate – I, myself, am partial to pork and leek.
Jiaozi Junkie begins by giving you a recipe in plain writing: 3 cups flour, 1 1/4 cups cold water, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Really, that’s all it takes. With the app prompting you, you place the ingredients together in a bowl, until a gong is sounded to signify the step being completed. Throughout the instructional game, East Asian music is heard, a chirping Chinese flute accented by what possibly could be a sanxian, a liuquin, perchance a ruan? It’s very pretty, and sets the right mood for the game. After making the dough, you’ll be prompted with selecting your dumplings’ ingredients, with various choices in meat and vegetables in the repertoire. Beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, lamb, fish, and egg comprise the animal tenders, with various vegetables like leek, lotus root, carrot, cabbage, eggplant, even the odd tomato comprising the right column. I was confused by the ingredient pairing this app forces on you – if you select pork, for example, you cannot choose parsley, bitter melon, carrot, or tomato; choosing egg has the worst limitations, with tomato being the only available choice. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that egg can’t be paired with leek? Or mushroom? Is that too French? And why is pork the only ingredient that can be paired with lotus root? What if I want a lotus root, cabbage dumpling? These pairings may be traditional, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stubbornly throw back your hair, snort in derision, and use whatever you please in life. By all means, make that turkey and asparagus dumpling (I don’t necessarily recommend that combination).
After washing and preparing the filling, Jiaozi Junkie will have you roll the dough into a thin strip, making the “jiaozi skin,” and then have you pinch off ping pong ball sized pieces of dough. This was the only frustrating part of the app, as the touch interface is cloudy somehow, only registering your finger taps with difficulty. With your fingers on a rolling pin you roll out the dough, and then wrap the filling into the individual skins, pinching the edges to form a jaozi shape. I found this pinching part to be highly satisfying, possibly even more satisfying than when I made actual jiaozis. Next, you boil the dumplings for 3-5 minutes (don’t worry, there isn’t a stirring animation, so don’t fret); they’ll float to the top when done. Drain and remove from the pot, eat, enjoy.
I may end up posting some pictures of when I made some Jiaozi, using this app as my guide. The instructions were straightforward and the results, delicious. Though, I will say it would be helpful if the app included a way to navigate back through the instructions; as of now, once a step is finished, you must go through the entire course to cycle back, or exit to the Main screen and start over. Apparently, Jiaozi Junkie is only the first in a culinary series by Bluefir Media, so I definitely look forward to more recipes in the future – hopefully, with more than one recipe per app.
Until then, Duo Chi!
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