Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mai - Sell Those Little Money Bags

I mentioned that Jiao, which means dumpling, looks like a little guy standing next to a vendor cart, selling something. Jiao zi 餃子 are one of the most popular kinds of dumplings, but there is another very popular dumpling called "cook sell", or Shao Mai 燒賣. Shao, as we explained recently, means roast or stew, although it's used in this case just as a generic "cook". The other character, the one pictured here, is Mai, and it means "sell."

These tasty little dumplings are common Chinese dim sum houses and Japanese restaurants. The Chinese make them of pork, or pork and shrimp, or beef, or even a vegetarian version of sticky rice. The filling is formed into a little ball, and the wrapper gathered around it, open-topped, so it looks like an overflowing bag of money. It's supposed to bring good fortune.

If you just see it listed as shao mai (or sui mai, or su mei) it will probably be filled with pork.
You'll see these in Japanese and Korean restaurants as shrimp shao mai.
And you have to guess what Niu Rou Shao Mai is (you've seen it, and we've reviewed it recently):
How to recognize -- Mai 賣, or sell, looks very squared off and fortified, almost like a bank, which may make you think of both "sell" and of moneybags. It also looks a little like a stack of steamers, and that's usually how they are brought to the table in a dim sum restaurant, in a stack of steamers. Take your pick.

(Next time, we finally get to the real roasting of Shao.)

The Pinyin spelling is mài, or mai4 (forth tone).

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