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  2. Story Behind The Dish: Wontons
Story Behind The Dish: Wontons

The story behind the dish: wontons

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  • Read time: 4 min

There's nowhere better to eat wontons than in Hong Kong. It's the country where these punchy parcels came into their own. They're one of the cornerstones of Chinese cooking, and they're so incredibly versatile – serve them up however you want. Cram them full of pork, sizzle them with onions, or stew them in a thick and meaty stock.

Wontons are popularly served in soup, deep-fried as crunchy packages or wok-tossed with noodles… The possibilities are endless. But where did wontons come from – and how did they become so popular?

Wontons' origins

Originally, people ate dumplings because folk wisdom said they kept frostbite at bay. We know better than that these days – but when you're breathing in the heady scent of wonton soup, steam rising from your bowl on a cold afternoon, you can't help but wonder if those ancient people were onto something. 

It seems like wontons stretch back thousands of years – there's records of them being enjoyed in 544 CE, and it looks like people have loved them ever since. Scientists even discovered preserved wontons dating back 1,200 years – made of the same stuff we put in our dumplings today. Now that's proof of a culinary classic.

The evolution of the wonton

Wontons are an incredibly adaptable food. When Journey sang 'Any way you want it, that's the way you need it,'  they may as well have been talking about wontons.

There are a few classic forms on the wonton. Northern Chinese provinces serve them stuffed to bursting with minced pork, sealed up in a paper-thin casing. Travel south to Guangdong, and you'll find more diverse offerings. Egg-based wrappers provide a more substantive case and add some extra chew.

When you cross over into a new region of China, chances are you'll find a new type of wonton. The most radical variation is the chili-oil wonton from Sichuan. These fiery dumplings are cooked in – yep, you guessed it – chili oil, to provide a searing kick that you'll still be feeling tomorrow.

Hong Kong's pride and joy

Here in Hong Kong is where wontons really got popular though. After the Second World War, wonton noodles became the hottest street food in town . Restaurants capitalised on this newfound excitement, and new eateries were born.

Wong Chi Kei know all about that boom – they were there. The restaurant is a Central institution, serving up diners' dream dishes  for over 70 years. Their wonton soup noodles combine the best of every world: slippery noodles, freshly wilted greens and hand-made dumplings that bob up and down in a sea of rich broth.

Dumplings are cooked in the soup itself, letting them soak up the flavours and creating a super  soft centre. It's perfection on a plate – or rather, in a bowl. Slurp up a taste of 50s Hong Kong cuisine with this city classic. 

Wontons in other countries

There's a popular legend that Marco Polo brought a recipe for wontons back from China and inspired modern-day pasta. Whether it's true or not, our favourite little dumpling made a big splash all over the world.

In America, fried wontons are a popular appetizer. These wontons  are served alongside sweet and sour sauce – they're crispy, crunchy bites perfect for a snack. Canada's more fond of noodle soups. However, there's an obvious westernisation here too – the noodles are glorified spaghetti.

And that's without mentioning other local wonton variations from around the globe. From rustic Russian pelmenyi to Thai kiao nam soup, nowhere can resist the wonton's siren song.

Grab a plate of wontons for an office-ready brunch, or seek out some Sichuan stunners for a sinus-clearing dinner.  But if you're after the best in the wonton world, we think Hong Kong's famous wonton noodle soup is on a level all of its own.

Get some of the best wonton noodles in town, brought straight from Wong Chi Kei's kitchen to your door thanks to Deliveroo.

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