A Post for National Dumpling Day by Kat Zhang, author of Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao
I’m so excited to be celebrating National Dumping Day with you all here at the Nerdy Book Club! Making dumplings and baozi, or bao (a type of meat-and-dough bun!) with my family was an important part of my childhood, and an experience I drew on heavily to write my upcoming picture book, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao.
Both dumpling and bao making are labor-intensive, and often can take several hours. Growing up, I associated dumpling-making with family parties. My parents’ friends would gather around the table and talk about grown-up things, laughing and joking with each other as they filled and folded dumplings from a communal pot of meat filling.
Bao-making was more of a family endeavor. Fresh from the steamer, bao reminded me of soft, fluffy pillows. They were shaped a little like pillows, too—though never for long once I got my hands and teeth on them. I also loved watching the magic of the dough rising in its bowl. My father would mix a slurry of flour, water, and yeast and pop it in the oven to keep warm. A few hours later, it would have doubled in size. Sometimes, if we accidentally left it in too long, it would overflow the bowl like a big goop monster.
Bao are tricky to make. The yeast dough has to be rolled flat like a series of little pancakes, each the size of a palm. Little dollops of filling—sometimes sweet red bean paste, sometimes savory meat and veggies—are then placed inside, and the whole thing pleated like a purse. All-in-all, it was a little too much hand-eye-coordination for a small child! More often than not, I was regulated to making dough-men with a little knob of dough my parents twisted off for me while they did the rest of the bao-making.
Like Amy Wu, I yearned to made the perfect bao—to create a bao that wasn’t too full, wasn’t too empty, and didn’t leak all over when it was steamed!
No matter my role, I loved these bao-making sessions with my parents. They gave me a chance to connect with my parents and learn about my Chinese heritage. I didn’t grow up decorating Christmas cookies with my family, or making pies for Thanksgiving, or doing many other traditional American cooking traditions that I saw represented in books and on TV. I think making bao and other Chinese treats filled that gap for me.
With Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, I wanted to write a modern Chinese-American family that reflected the beautiful, loving experiences I had as a child. I wanted other kids to see themselves in those experiences, or to learn about a familial tradition they may not share. Growing up, I so rarely saw children’s books about Asian-Americans, and I’m thrilled that Amy Wu will not only add to the rising diversity in kid lit, but also contribute to the next generation of bao-lovers!
I’d never written a picture book before Amy Wu & the Perfect Bao, and the whole experience has been amazing. I’m lucky to work with a fabulous team, including Amy’s illustrator, Charlene Chua, who brought Amy and her family to life with beautiful, vibrant pictures. Recently, I was thrilled to learn that we’d gotten the green for a second Amy Wu book, Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon. I can’t wait to see another Amy adventure come to life, and I hope there will be many more to come.
Happy Dumpling Day, everyone! May all your dumplings be delicious, and shared with those you love!
KAT ZHANG loves traveling to places both real and fictional—the former have better souvenirs, but the latter allow for dragons, so it’s a tough choice. A writer of books for teens and children, she spends her free time scribbling poetry, taking photographs, and climbing atop things she shouldn’t. Visit her online at katzhangwriter.com and on Twitter @KatZhang and Instagram @katzhangwriter.