Shumai is the Japanese take on Chinese steamed dumplings made with ground pork, aromatic seasonings and finely chopped vegetables stuffed into paper-thin wrappers. Serve them with soy sauce and karashi mustard for a flavour explosion with every bite!
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What is shumai?
Shumai (焼売 or シューマイ) is the Japanese version of Chinese shāomai or siu mai, a type of steamed dumpling (dim sum) made with ground pork mixed with seasonings and vegetables wrapped in a thin flour dough.
While it might not be as popular as Japanese gyoza or nikuman (steamed meat buns), it is still one of Japan's most well-known dumpling dishes due to the popularity of shumai bento boxes and pre-made supermarket products.
Shumai is often served with karashi (Japanese mustard) and dipped in soy sauce. In Japan, Yokohama is known as the centre of shumai.
Brief history of shumai in Japan
As mentioned earlier, shumai is a dish that came to Japan from China. It is not a dish invented in Japan by a Chinese chef like ebi chili or ebi mayo, but rather a dish based on the original made using Japanese ingredients. In China there are various kinds of shumai with different regional characteristics, whereas in Japan, it is predominantly made with pork or shrimp (or very occasionally with crab).
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Yokohama is recorded as the city with the highest consumption of shumai in Japan. This is largely due to the presence of shumai from "Kiyo-ken", a well-known specialty restaurant based in Yokohama, and Yokohama's Chinatown, the mecca of Chinese cuisine in the whole of Japan.
There is no definitive evidence that tells us when exactly shumai was introduced to Japan, although some say it may have been around 1884. However, it was none other than the aforementioned Kiyo-ken restaurant that made shumai a well-known dish across the country. In order to spread the word of shumai, which was not yet popular or well-known, they set up shop in Yokohama Station. By selling shumai to customers travelling by train, the name and popularity spread, eventually becoming one of the most commonly eaten dumplings in Japan!
Later, the sale of shumai bento established the image of "tasty even when cold," and it quickly gained recognition from its use in "ekiben", a lunch box sold in stations to eat on the train.
Shumai vs gyoza: what are the differences?
Shumai and gyoza are both popular Chinese dishes in Japan, but what are the differences?
Firstly, gyoza and shumai differ in ingredients and cooking methods. In Japan, gyoza is usually made with ground pork, chives, cabbage, garlic, etc., while shumai is usually made with ground pork, onions, green onions, etc.
The cooking method of choice for gyoza in Japan is generally pan-frying, while shumai is always cooked by steaming.
Incidentally, although shumai's and gyoza's wrappers are both made of wheat flour, they differ in shape and thickness. Shumai is made with thin square wonton wrappers, while gyoza is made using slightly thicker, round wrappers.
It is said that gyoza's wrapper is slightly thicker in order to accommodate ingredients with more moisture (such as watery vegetables like cabbage etc.) and can withstand various types of cooking methods: pan-frying, deep-frying, or boiling. But please note that this is the situation in Japan, and it might be different to the original Chinese wrappers.
Because of this aspect, if you put the shumai filling in gyoza wrapper, there's no problem, but if you put the gyoza filling in the shumai wrapper, it will get soggy and fall apart. Keep this in mind when purchasing your dumpling wrappers!
Cooking methods for shumai
As mentioned above, shumai in Japan is predominantly steamed. However, some places either fry or deep fry shumai. Please note that this recipe is only optimised for steamed shumai.
Dipping sauce for shumai
In Japan, people eat shumai simply dipping them in soy sauce with karashi (Japanese mustard). This is one unique aspect to shumai in Japan and they go very well!
Some people even dip them in ponzu sauce, but I highly recommend with soy sauce with karashi mustard.
Ingredients to make this steamed pork shumai
This pork shumai is made with common Asian ingredients that should be pretty accessible in well stocked supermarkets or Asian supermarkets. (The list includes affiliate links to help you find the right products where possible.)
For this shumai recipe you will need:
- Pork mince
- Pork belly
- Soy sauce
- Oyster sauce
- Sesame oil
- Black pepper
- Grated ginger
- Spring onion
- Bamboo shoots
- Green peas
- Potato starch
- Wonton wrappers (square shape)
- Karashi (Japanese mustard)
I go over the ingredients in more detail below!
Pork mince and pork belly
While it's fine to use pork mince alone, I personally like to add some finely chopped pork belly for added fat and texture!
Oyster sauce and soy sauce add saltiness and umami to the filling, while sesame oil adds some depth. I also like to add sake to meat dishes as it softens the taste and makes the pork more tender. If you can't find sake, you could replace it with Chinese rice wine or dry sherry.
Using starch helps bind the filling and gives it a sticky texture. It also helps absorb excess moisture in the vegetables, making the filling more stable in the thin wonton wrappers. Potato starch can be substituted with corn starch or tapioca starch.
Shumai is made with thin square wrappers, the same kind as used to make wontons. While you could use gyoza wrappers, they will be thicker and the round shape doesn't work so well for shaping shumai.
Instructions on how to make steamed pork shumai
Making shumai from scratch is easy and pretty fun too, you can get the whole family involved! Here are my step by step instructions on how to make shumai filling and tips for wrapping! See the recipe card at the bottom of the page for ingredient quantities.
Finely dice pork belly
Start by finely dicing some thin slices of pork belly with a knife. The reason I use a knife is so that the shumai filling has a bit of a chunky texture. Using a food processor or mincer for this will lose the purpose, just a sharp knife will do nicely!
Combine the mince, pork belly and seasonings
Place the pork mince and finely diced pork belly into a mixing bowl along with soy sauce, sake, oyster sauce, salt, sugar, pepper and sesame oil. Lightly knead them together by hand.
Grate the onion and ginger
Grating the onion and ginger not only helps it distribute more evenly through the filling, but it also makes it extra juicy!
Mix vegetables with potato starch
Add the finely chopped spring onion and bamboo shoots to a separate bowl with some potato starch, mix them together until evenly coated. Not only does the potato starch help absorb the excess moisture from the vegetables, but it will also act as a binder when we combine it with the meat helping make a more stable filling that will hold its shape when steamed.
Knead together by hand
Combine the meat, grated onion and ginger, and potato starch coated vegetables all into one bowl and knead them together by hand until the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the filling.
Shape the shumai
Line the steaming basket with a sheet of baking paper for easy removal once the shumai is cooked. This will also prevent them sticking or breaking!
Take a wonton wrapper and place it in the palm of your hand. Use a cutlery knife to spread about 1 tbsp of filling in the centre. (This is approximately 15g per shumai.) Leave some space around the edge with extra space in the corners.
Curl your thumb and fingers around the shumai to help guide the edges of the wrapper upwards.
While your thumb and fingers are wrapped around the shumai, use the knife to push it down. Use your other hand to push the shumai up from underneath and flatten the base.
Smooth out the dent using the edge of the knife.
Place the completed shumai in a steaming basket lined with baking paper. Once they're all shaped, place a green pea in the centre of each one.
Bring your water to a rolling boil.
Once the water is boiling, place the steaming basket with a lid over the pot and steam the shumai for 8 minutes.
Dish up and enjoy!
Remove the shumai from the heat and dish up!
I recommend serving shumai with Japanese "karashi" mustard and soy sauce for dipping!
For best results, cook the shumai before storing. While it is possible to make them ahead of time, the raw ingredients need to be kept refrigerated and this can cause the dumpling wrappers to dry out. I recommend steaming them first, then refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1-2 days. You can reheat them in the microwave before serving.
Alternatively, steam the shumai and then freeze for up to 2 weeks. (The taste will start to deteriorate after 2 weeks.) To stop them from sticking together, freeze them on a tray with a little space between each shumai. After 2-3 hours you can transfer them to a ziplock bag or container.
Shumai can be reheated in the microwave or steam again until piping hot.Print
Step by step recipe
In this recipe specifically, I use pork, spring onion, white onion, bamboo shoots, green peas and variety of condiments.
Generally shumai is not spicy at all.
In this recipe, yes. However, there are variations of shumai that use shrimps or crabs.
In this recipe, I simply use soy sauce and karashi (Japanese mustard) as dipping sauce. It is also not unusual to use ponzu (soy sauce mixed with citrus juice).