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How to make siu mai

Firm favourites in the dumpling world, these dainty parcels are child’s play to make.

By Tony Tan
  • 30 mins preparation
  • 20 mins cooking plus soaking, resting, marinating
  • Print
Among the most celebrated dumplings at any yum cha restaurant, siu mai (aka shumai) to a Chinese person is like a meat pie to an Aussie. And yet, like any meat pie, there are the good and the very ordinary siu mai. Open-topped steamed dumplings traditionally made with minced pork wrapped in wonton pastry and served in bamboo baskets, siu mai as we know them in Australia and the West in general are from the Cantonese or Southern school.
Considered by the Cantonese to be one of the "big three" dim sum (the other two being char siu bao and har gau), siu mai apparently originated in the Inner Mongolian city of Hohhot. While this may be apocryphal, what is interesting is, having popped up in the city of Guangzhou (formerly Canton), how this delicious morsel travelled to Hong Kong and finally to the rest of the world.
To the Chinese, southern China, where Guangzhou is situated, has always been known as a region for excellent food. As such, Guangzhou enjoys the reputation throughout the country as to the go-to city for dim sum. Here, dim sum chefs have turned the making of these parcels into an art form. They were served to accompany tea, particularly in restaurants known as teahouses - cha lou.
After Hong Kong became a British colony in 1842, dim sum cooks migrated across the Pearl River Delta to work in humble teahouses and stalls in Sai Ying Pun, an area settled by the Chinese on the island. While the history of these simple teahouses is vague, legendary establishments such as Lin Heung (founded in Guangzhou in 1889) and Luk Yu (1933) teahouses have served siu mai along with other dumplings to this day. And it's from Hong Kong that dim sum chefs were recruited to work in Cantonese restaurants all over the world, hence the reputation of Hong Kong chefs.
Tip 1: Use a pasta machine to make your dumpling wrappers Photo: John Paul Urizar

Tip 1: Use a pasta machine to make your dumpling wrappers

You can buy wonton wrappers or make your own. Traditionally, a long rolling pin is used when making wonton wrappers and noodles to roll the dough out on a large table; using a pasta machine is much quicker.
To form the siu mai, many dim sum chefs trim off the square edges of the wrappers for aesthetics, but this isn't necessary (we've left them square here).
Tip 2: Aim for a good ratio of fat and meat in your filling Photo: John Paul Urizar

Tip 2: Aim for a good ratio of fat and meat in your filling

Meaning "cook and sell", siu mai are easy to make. They're the first dumplings I made as a kid in Malaysia. The key is to create the "mouth-feel" or hau gum, which is important to this dumpling. It should have "bounce" in the mouth. Most yum cha restaurants typically use chopped pork only, with pork fat in the filling to give the characteristic bounciness. But I find some cheaper places use much more pork fat, which makes the dumpling less palatable. The best ratio I find is 80 per cent lean meat to 20 per cent fat, so I often ask my butcher to mince pork belly for me.
To create that bounce factor, better restaurants now use a combination of pork and prawns. I've done so here, and with umami-packed shiitake, crunchy water chestnuts, a splash of soy sauce and Shaoxing wine, and potato flour and eggwhite as binding agents, the filling is quite delicious.
Tip 3: When it comes to folding your siu mai, have patience Photo: John Paul Urizar

Tip 3: When it comes to folding your siu mai, have patience

I put a teaspoonful of the filling in the middle of the wrapper and then gather up the wrapper around it. The wrapper should fold naturally into pleats, although it's best to do this manually. Squeeze the sides gently to form a basket or cylinder, which ensures the wrapper will stick to the filling, then tap the dumpling bottom lightly to flatten it. While working with each dumpling, be sure to cover your wrappers with a damp tea towel to keep them from drying out.
Tip 4: Line your bamboo steamer with non-stick paper, or brush with oil. Photo: John Paul Urizar

Tip 4: Line your bamboo steamer with non-stick paper, or brush with oil

When all the dumplings are made, decorate the tops with diced carrots, peas, goji berries or crab roe, the traditional garnish. Purists then place the dumplings on thinly sliced carrots to stop the bottoms from getting wet; I line my bamboo baskets with non-stick paper and prick a few holes in it for the steam to get through (you can also oil the baskets). When you're ready to eat, pop the dumplings in the baskets and steam them for about 10 minutes.
Tip 5: Serve your siu mai as soon as possible Photo: John Paul Urizar

Tip 5: Serve your siu mai as soon as possible

Serve them at once with your favourite dipping sauce, or without if you prefer - they're also delicious as they are.
Siu mai dumplings freeze well, which makes them perfect standbys. I always have them on hand in the freezer for when unexpected visitors arrive. They're of course great with Chinese tea and, I might add, a glass of Champagne, too.

Siu mai recipe

Serve these with dipping sauces such as Chinkiang vinegar and soy sauce, and with julienned ginger. Makes around 30.


  • 2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 1 hour
  • 80 gm canned water chestnuts, chopped
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped ginger
  • 1 spring onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1½ tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 300 gm skinned and boned pork belly, coarsely chopped
  • 180 gm raw prawns, peeled, coarsely chopped
  • 1 eggwhite
  • 2 tbsp potato flour
  • For brushing: vegetable oil
  • To garnish: finely chopped carrot
  • To serve: julienned ginger and dipping sauces (see above)
Wonton wrappers
  • 250 gm (1 cup) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1½ medium eggs, beaten


  • 1
    For wonton wrappers, sieve flour and 1 tsp salt into a bowl.
  • 2
    Add eggs and 75ml cold water and stir to form a dough.
  • 3
    Tip dough out onto a lightly floured bench and knead until smooth (10 minutes). Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and rest in a cool place for 1 hour.
  • 4
    Meanwhile, for the filling, squeeze excess water from shiitake, discard stems and chop finely. Place in a bowl with the chestnuts, ginger, spring onion, soy sauce, Shaoxing and sesame oil.
  • 5
    Add remaining ingredients except the carrot, mix well and set aside for 20 minutes to marinate.
  • 6
    Divide dough into 4 even portions. Working with a piece at a time and covering remaining dough with a damp cloth, dust with flour, flatten and pass through a pasta machine, starting at widest setting, rolling and folding until smooth, then reduce settings a notch at a time until you reach the last setting and dough is 2mm thick.
  • 7
    Cut dough into 9cm squares, dust with flour and cover with a damp cloth while rolling remaining dough.
  • 8
    Place 1 tsp of filling in the centre of each wrapper. Bring up the sides and gently squeeze into shape. Smooth filling on top with a knife and tap bottom gently on bench so it stands upright.
  • 9
    Put a pinch of carrot on top of the filling.
  • 10
    Lightly brush steamer with vegetable oil or line with a sheet of baking paper, then steam dumplings in batches until cooked through (8-10 minutes). Serve with julienned ginger and dipping sauces.