No dish is better known in China than jiaozi, dumplings with meat and vegetable fillings wrapped in thin pastry and served boiled, steamed or fried.

There are many stories about the origins of jiaozi. One widely cited is that the delicacy is the invention of Zhang Ji (Zhang Zhongjing, 150-219), author of Treatise on Cold Pathogenic and Miscellaneous Diseases and one of the greatest practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine in history. After retiring from his official post, Zhang established a clinic in his hometown of Nanyang that would open every winter with a kitchen serving a soup of mutton stock, herbs and ear-shaped dumplings. The soup effectively dispelled cold, and those who ate it would soon warm up. The soup was referred to as jiao’er, or tender ear. Zhang’s program would run until the eve of Chinese New Year. Gradually, local people put jiao’er on their New Year menu, and the name later evolved to jiaozi.

Today jiaozi is a national classic Chinese dish. It is most popular in the north, and a must for the Chinese New Year’s Eve reunion dinner, when families sit together and make jiaozi as part of the celebrations to welcome the new year. Eating jiaozi is also traditional for the Lantern Festival (the 15th day of the first month on the lunar calendar), and the Winter Solstice, a seasonal turning point.

As people in the south of China prefer to cook with rice rather than flour, jiaozi is not as popular in the local diet and rarely makes it to the dinner table at major events.

But jiaozi restaurants can be found throughout China, and Baijiaoyuan, headquartered in Tianjin, is one of the most reputed chains. It holds the Guinness World Record for its 229 varieties of jiaozi, whose fillings range from vegetarian to seafood, mushroom, special sour and spicy caked duck blood and the sweet concoction of hawthorn with silver ear fungus.

How to make jiaozi:

Mince streaky pork. Add soy sauce, wine, salt, sesame oil and minced shallot and ginger (add a few drops of cooking oil if the pork is too lean), and stir until the ingredients are evenly mixed. Add some water and continue to churn until the mixture becomes stretchy.

Finely chop your choice of vegetables. For vegetables with high water content, for example Chinese cabbage, sprinkle with salt, wait until the juice seeps out, and squeeze to get rid of extra moisture before mixing with the ground meat mixture.

Roll dough into thin round wrappers and add a spoonful of filling to each. Pinch the wrapper together to enclose the dumplings and cook in your preferred way.