DIY Dumplings

The Peninsula Academy offers a hands-on experience

By: Jim Calio

Now, pinch the two sides together,” the chef said, and as I did, a dumpling-in-the-making took shape before my eyes.

I was sitting in the kitchen of The Peninsula Palace Hotel in Beijing with my wife, Lisa, her younger son Chris and my sister Lori who had flown all the way from Massachusetts. We had signed up for the dumpling-making class as part of the hotel’s Peninsula Academy program, which is designed to give visitors to Beijing a taste, literally and figuratively, of Chinese culture.

A table had been set for us in the kitchen, located off to the side of the property’s signature restaurant, Jing. We were served coffee and tea and introduced to our instructors, the two hotel chefs who would guide us through the morning’s class.

On the first round, the chefs demonstrated how to stuff the dough with all the ingredients for a classic Chinese pork dumpling, called siu mai. The dough was more like a wrapper, because it had been rolled flat. The chef explained to us that the hotel often made its own wrappers out of corn starch and water, but in a concession to modern times, they were buying more and more of them ready-made.

After laying a dollop of the pork stuffing (mushroom, shrimp, pork fat and meat, chicken powder and seasoning) in the wrapper, we all began the hardest part folding the wrapper and pinching the sides together in order to seal the dumpling. The results, at least this time around, were quite good. Most of the dumplings looked pretty authentic, with only a few of them falling apart. The chef quickly whisked the raw dumplings into a steamer and onto the stove.

The dumpling-making class is only one of the courses offered by the Peninsula Academy. Among the others: A three-hour hutong tour, which takes visitors by pedicab to some of the remaining old sections of Beijing, those neighborhoods with single-story dwellings organized around a communal courtyard. The hutongs literally, “narrow alleys” are fast disappearing, plowed under and replaced by sleek, modern high-rises and mini-malls.

The Peninsula Academy also provides a behind-the-scenes look at a typical acrobatic show, an authentic Chinese tea ceremony performed by a tea master and antique furniture restoration at one of Beijing’s largest furniture factories.

My sister, ever adventurous, wanted to take a course in Qigong, a traditional form of Chinese medicine that emphasizes breathing and physical postures, but we were told that the master teacher was out of the country, so she settled instead for an hour of yoga in her room.

As our dumplings were steaming in the stove, the two chefs quickly got us onto the second course, so to speak. This time, we were to make a more elaborate dumpling called jui cai jiao. Given that we were novices, the chefs had already mixed the ingredients for the stuffing for us, but they demonstrated how they did it from scratch anyway.

We took from the batch they had made, and, once again, carefully laid the mixture (shrimp meat, salt, chicken powder, sugar and chive water) onto the wrappers and, once again, pinched the edges of the dough together.

This second batch of dumplings was also put into steamers and placed on the stove, and as the chef did that, he took off the first batch we had made and asked us to sample them. There is something about eating what you have just made that makes it even more special, especially when what you have done is so far out of your experience. And, guess what, the dumplings were pretty good.

By the time we got to the third and final dish, we felt like old pros. We quickly stuffed two-inch tubular wrappers with shrimp and pork meat to make Cantonese spring rolls, dropped them into boiling oil and our work was done. We applauded the chefs, and they applauded us. We were now certified graduates of the Peninsula Academy’s dumpling-making class, and although the others felt confident that they had learned something, the words “Don’t try this at home” kept ringing in my ears as we walked out of the kitchen.


The Peninsula Palace in Beijing is not alone in offering Peninsula Academy courses. The Peninsula in Hong Kong will introduce guests to Chinese brush writing, while The Peninsula in Bangkok offers a course in 800-year-old flower arranging complete with a night tour of the local flower market.