Chinese dumplings are far more than just dumplings. They’re lucky charms as well, perfect for the period before, during and after Tet. Words by Vi Pham. Photos by Owen Salisbury


The concept about the food of luck exists in many countries. In Chinese culture, sui cao — jiao zi, a type of dumpling, represents wealth, great fortune and a full family. Not to be mistaken for hoanh thanh (wonton), sui cao is bigger and its filling is more diverse. There were many dishes that followed the Chinese people to Saigon, but sui cao has won its place on the street and in the heart of Vietnamese foodies. Although good sui cao can only be found in the Chinatown areas in Saigon, it is still popular for its symbolism, especially when Tet is approaching. People believe having sui cao for a New Year will bring their family happiness and wealth as sui cao is made in the same shape as antique silver ingots.


The Delightful Bite



There are different sui cao dishes such as sui cao soup, steamed sui cao or dried sui cao, but I personally adore sui cao chien (fried) for its lovely contrast of a crunchy skin and a gentle filling. In China, they cook sui cao in pads of dumpling wrappers and a mixture of chopped pork and veggies. However, when Chinese people brought the dish to Vietnam, it was adjusted to fit the Vietnamese palate with a thinner wrapping and a different filling.


Sui cao chien, compared to other dumpling dishes, might not be as visually appealing. However, don’t judge a sui cao by its cover. Biting into a sui cao chien, you will first feel the crunchiness of the fried wrapping. The tiny crackling sounds that pop up when you chew proves that the sui cao was fried properly and served just at the right time. That crispiness is a distraction from the soft and gentle filling inside. The juicy and chewy combination of chopped pork, fresh shrimp, drops of fish sauce and ground pepper really warms up and excites a diner.


A good sui cao chien must be fried with a certain amount of oil and for a certain amount of time to achieve that crunchiness on the outside and tenderness on the inside without leaving a mouthful of fat. The diverse flavour dancing on the tip of your tongue might make you want to eat sui cao chien any time of the year, not just at Tet.


However, eating these dumplings is not that simple. In Chinese culture, they believe that sui cao should be served in an odd number of pieces, and also that an odd number should be left on the plate. This symbolizes retaining prosperity and joy for one’s family.


Busy Places Create Great Sui Cao



It is always so busy and noisy in the sui cao restaurants in Chinatown, and the most dominant sound you’ll find in these places is the sound of the cooks slamming their cleavers on the chopping boards. They are not angry — that is just how making dumplings should sound, as they believe the louder the chopping and the more echoes it creates, the more bliss and happiness will come to their family.


“Who can fully enjoy their meal in a boring silent place?” said the straightforward waitress when asked about the chopping noise. “We also have to cook loudly and constantly so the customers know that we only serve them fresh food.”


I don’t know whether sui cao can deliver happiness and joy, but it was undeniable that in such busy places, I was surrounded by people enjoying sui cao with their loved ones. Wealthy or not, they all seemed cheery to me.


Grab your sui cao chien at Sui Cao Ngoc Y (187 Ha Ton Quyen, Q11) and Sui Cao Thien Thien (191 Ha Ton Quyen, Q11). In business for more than 40 years, these places serve the best sui cao in town

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1 comment

  • Comment Link Jay Jay Feb 21, 2016

    Great piece! Never knew fried wontons were so symbolic.

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