Your Guide to Asian Wrappers: When and How to Use Each Variety
Asian cuisines have stuffed food into wrappers for centuries, creating everything from delightfully crunchy egg rolls to melt-in-your-mouth tender dumplings.
But the wide range of wrapper types can sometimes be confusing to the uninitiated. If I want a crunchy appetizer, do I reach for a spring roll or lumpia wrapper? What's the difference between a dumpling or gyoza, and will my guests be able to tell?
With our handy guide to the most common (at least in the United States) varieties of wrappers, you'll no longer have these questions when perusing the refrigerated or freezer section of your local Asian grocery store. For each type we'll cover texture, cooking techniques, and suggested uses.
"Dumpling" is broad term that spans across cuisines and can vary greatly depending on where you're eating. Typically in Asian cuisines, a dumpling is a thin wheat-based dough filled with meats, or other proteins, and vegetables before being folded up and either steamed, boiled, or fried. The main difference from country to country is the preferred fillings and how the dough is folded. China has jiaozi, Mongolia serves buuz, Nepal enjoys momo, Korea plates up mandu, and gyoza (listed further below) is a staple in Japan.
By purchasing generic dumpling wrappers - also sometimes referred to as "dumpling skins" - you'll have a world of flavors to play with. Typically made with wheat flour and round in shape, store-bought dumpling wrappers can be steamed, boiled in soups, or fried. Depending on which international dumpling type you're trying to replicate, its typical dough may be a little thicker or thinner, but by using the store-bought version you'll have a basic stand-in for experimenting.
Try It: Chinese Pork Dumplings
Egg Roll Wrappers
Found in China and other Mandarin-speaking countries, egg rolls use a square-shaped wrapper. The main ingredients are flour, salt, water, and eggs, the latter of which makes the texture relatively thick. They crisp up when fried to a golden brown, but don't "shatter" in your mouth like fried spring rolls or lumpia (more on them to come). Egg rolls can also be baked, but they're more likely to have a chewy texture that isn't found in tradition version of the dish. Their thickness makes them ideal for holding more moist ingredients like certain vegetables or fatty meats, which could make other wrapper varieties soggy. Common fillings include ground pork, shredded cabbage, or ground chicken.
Try It: Irresistible Egg Roll Recipes
Gyoza are Japanese dumplings that are similar to Chinese jiaozi but with a thinner dough. The theory is that Japanese soldiers returning from World War II in China brought back the dish's concept to their homeland. Gyoza are recognizable by the pleated folding technique that gives each dumpling a half-moon shape. The traditional cooking method is to pan-fry one side of the gyoza until crispy, then add a dash of water and cover to steam the remaining part of the dough. The resulting dish is simultaneously crisp and tender. Common gyoza fillings include ground pork, wood ear mushrooms, scallions, shrimp, and cabbage.
Try It: Pork Gyoza
Rice Paper Wrappers
Rice paper is an ingredient that originated in Vietnam and is shelf-stable, so you'll find them in your grocery store's inner aisles. Made with a blend of rice flour and tapioca flour, each piece of rice paper starts off with a dry and stiff paper-like texture that's nearly see through. But the rice paper magically transforms into a pliable and chewy ingredient once it's had a quick dip into water. It's then rolled into non-fried spring rolls and summer rolls that are filled with ingredients like raw or cooked vegetables, herbs, cooked meats or seafood, and rice noodles. Rice paper rolls are great for no-cook dishes, plus they're also naturally gluten-free and vegan-friendly. The only downside is that once they've sat for a while, the rice paper wrapper becomes gummy, so spring and summer rolls are best eaten within an hour of making them.
Spring Roll Wrappers
In Vietnam, a spring roll often relies on the rice paper mentioned above for a fresh, no-cook roll. But as early Vietnamese people emigrated to the United States, they found that rice paper was a commodity that wasn't easily purchased. So instead, many Vietnamese restaurants began serving spring rolls that are fried until incredibly crispy in a wheat flour-based wrapper that's common throughout east- and southeast-Asian cuisines. This wheat version of spring roll wrappers is often in the refrigerated section of grocery stores and is much thicker and more opaque than rice paper. Common fillings include shredded pork, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and cabbage.
Try It: Chicken Spring Rolls
Lumpia are a Filipino-style version of spring rolls. Typically made from flour, cornstarch, and water, lumpia wrappers are thin and delicate, but strong enough to hold fillings. You can serve either serve lumpia fresh or fried. When fried, the wrapper crisps up to be incredibly flaky and practically shatters when you take a bite. Savory lumpia often have ground pork and veggies inside, while dessert lumpia regularly rely on the sweet flavors of bananas and ube (a type of purple yam).
Try It: Our Best Filipino Lumpia Recipes
A common dumpling type across China, wontons are a versatile food thanks to the variety of ways they can be cooked. The square wrappers are made with a combination of wheat flour, water, egg, and salt. Wontons can be boiled, steamed, pan-fried, or deep-fried. In Asian cuisine they're often boiled into soups and other broth-based dishes, while Chinese-American restaurants usually offer a fried wonton appetizer that's typically stuffed with some type of meat and served with a sweet dipping sauce on the side.
Try It: Crispy Pork Wontons
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