Steamed Pearl Balls for National Dumpling Day!

September 25, 2015 (Last Updated: March 11, 2020)
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Tomorrow is the first official National Dumpling Day! It’s perhaps the most exciting food day ever because it’s celebrating one of my favorite foods of all time. The fantastic thing about dumplings is that there are so many varieties from around the world. Almost anything can be made into a dumpling.

If you’re in New York City this weekend, you can celebrate National Dumpling Day by heading to the first NYC Dumpling Festival tomorrow (September 26th) from noon to 5 pm at Sara D. Roosevelt Park from East Houston Street to Canal Street between Chrystie Street and Forsyth Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The festival will include a dumpling eating contest featuring Takeru Kobayashi, a champion competitive eater who will help host the event. The event also includes Lion Dances, Korean Drum performances, Asian Beatbox, belly dancing, a giant Dumpling Cutting Ceremony, a dumpling making class, raffles for awesome prizes, a book signing with Chinese cookbook author Kian Lam Kho, and more.

The NYC Dumpling Festival and all performances are free but there is a $20 ticket for a dumpling taster pass, which includes 4 tastes at vendor stalls. All proceeds go to the Food Bank NYC. If you’d like to find out more about the NYC Dumpling Festival you can visit their website here, check out their Facebook page here, or Twitter here (you can also use #DumplingFest2015 to chat about it on Twitter).

In the meantime, I’ve decided to share a unique type of dumpling that definitely doesn’t fit the typical dumpling mold. About 5 years ago, I had a very memorable dinner at Yakitori Totto in New York City. One of the most delicious elements at that meal was steamed rice-coated chicken meatballs. I have fantasized about those meatballs for 5 years.

Prior to steaming

The Chinese version of this dish hails from Shanghai, and its name translates to “Pearl Balls.” That’s pretty much what they look like: pearlescent balls with glistening sticky rice wrapped around a juicy meatball.

The recipes I’ve found range from using ground pork to chicken or turkey. Basically, white meat. I used ground pork, but would easily swap it out for ground poultry if that’s what I had on hand. The meat is mixed with a fragrant mixture of ginger and scallions, with some finely diced water chestnuts for crunch. A little bit of cornstarch and egg bind everything together.

The type of rice used here goes by several names: glutinous, sticky, and sweet are just three of them. Soak the rice in  plenty of water overnight and then drain and dry it thoroughly. These dumplings need a head start by soaking the rice, but otherwise are so much faster and easier to make than dumplings that require a wrapper (at least if you’re making the wrappers yourself, which in my case is the norm).

The interior is juicy and flavorful, and the exterior boasts chewy, sticky rice. It’s almost obscene how good these are considering how simple they really are to make. I hope this serves as an example of just how different dumplings can be. They don’t all have the same equation (dough + filling). Sometimes in place of dough there are other types of starch or wrappers that fit the bill.

Just beware, similar to when making meatballs, you may have a bit of the meat’s “juices” ooze out and coagulate on your pearl balls or in your steamer tray. I find that this tends to happen more when you are using meat that has previously been frozen (which mine was). It’s simple enough to use a spoon or butter knife to just swipe away some of these little bits before you serve these up.

I hope everyone has a wonderful National Dumpling Day tomorrow. If you’re near the Big Apple, please head on over to the NYC Dumpling Festival to celebrate. And if you’re farther away, pick up a bag of sticky rice and make these exquisite dumplings!

Steamed pearl balls in steamer basket

Pearl Balls (Zhēnzhū Qiú)

A different style of dumplings, these steamed morsels don't use wrappers but instead feature a coating of sticky rice around the exterior.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Chilling Time 20 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine Asian, Chinese
Servings 24 balls
Calories 59 kcal


  • 1 cup (210 g) sticky/sweet/glutinous rice, long or short grain variety soaked overnight in cold water (cover by 2 inches)
  • 1 pound (450 g) ground pork, chicken, or turkey
  • 3 tablespoons (10 g) finely chopped scallions
  • 3 tablespoons (20 g) finely diced water chestnuts*
  • 2 teaspoons (10 g) minced fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) light (regular) soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) Shaoxing rice wine, sake, or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon (10 g) cornstarch
  • 1 large egg beaten
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper


  • Drain the soaked rice and dry the grains well, spreading them out on a sheet pan and patting dry with a paper towel. Drier grains adhere to the mix mixture better.
  • Combine the ground meat, scallions, water chestnuts, ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, cornstarch, egg, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl until well blended. Divide the mixture into 24 meatballs, lightly wetting the palms of your hands with water to help shape them. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to firm up.
  • Roll the meatballs in the soaked rice, ensuring each meatball is covered in rice grains (I put the rice in a bowl or tupperware with tall sides and gently shook the bowl around to coat each meatball with rice).
  • Prepare bamboo steamer trays by lining with lightly oiled parchment paper. Ideally, three 9-inch steamer trays will comfortably hold all 24 balls (8 per tray). If you don’t have enough trays, you can steam them in batches.
  • Place the dumplings on the steamer tray, spacing them about 1 inch apart so they are not touching. Stack the trays carefully and cover with a lid. Place the steamer over boiling water, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Steam the dumplings for 15 to 20 minutes until the rice grains are cooked through.
  • Serve with soy dipping sauce such as the one included in this recipe, if desired. Refrigerate leftover dumplings, return them to room temperature, and steam them for about 5 minutes to reheat.

Notes & Nutrition

  • I find that whenever I purchase canned water chestnuts for a recipe, I only use a small amount and the rest goes to waste (I can never use it all in time). In the future I’d try substituting finely diced carrots to take the place of the water chestnuts and offers a similar crunch with a bit more color.
  • If you use tamari or another gluten-free soy sauce, this entire dish will be gluten-free!
  • Preferably use dark meat for the ground poultry options, although pork is preferable, and has the best flavor.
Adapted from Dumplings All Day Wong
Servings 24.0 * calories 59 * Total Fat 4 g * Saturated Fat 1 g * Monounsaturated Fat 0 g * Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g * Trans Fat 0 g * Cholesterol 21 mg * Sodium 131 mg * Potassium 6 mg * Total Carbohydrate 2 g * Dietary Fiber 0 g * Sugars 0 g * Protein 4 g
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*

*Disclaimer* This is a sponsored post. The company who sponsored it compensated me to write it. As always, my thoughts and opinions are always my own.

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