Steamed vegetable dumpling, chai pao

This is the one snack that is so delicate, that would actually torn with fillings all inside out if you try handle it roughly – by roughly I was referring to an act of lifting it off the plate or wrapping box unskillfully. You will need a spoon or a pair of chopsticks. The skin is made from natural sweet potato starch mixed with tapioca starch. Sold in almost every Chinese market across town for very little money really made it not worthwhile doing it myself, but I really had fun.

It is a lot of work, and I don’t think anybody would attempt this, unless they are especially craving for this savory treat and live a long way from South East Asia. I really enjoyed making them, and it is one great culinary adventure – for me.

This dumplings are filled and steamed, with skin made from scratch – real work of art, I think. In our local Hokkien dialect, we call this “Chai Pao” – literally meant “wrapped vegetable”. When done right, the skin should be very thin and soft, with delicious and juicy vegetable fillings.

The filling is jicama, carrot and french beans. The treat would be the chopped dried shrimp. There is something that I love about dried shrimp that probably not many people would get, especially those who are not from this region, but I love appetizers and snacks with dried shrimps in it. The pungent-like smelt made savory snacks very special!

Ingredients for steamed vegetable dumpling

These are the ingredients used. Sweet potatoes, carrots, jicama, french beans and dried shrimps. Yeah, all the good stuff!

Steamed vegetable dumpling

Sweet potatoes used should be the yellow and orange kind. If only yellow colored sweet potatoes are available, it is totally fine. Steam the sweet potatoes in a steamer till soft.

Steamed vegetable dumpling

This is how they look like once they are cooked. Poke them with a fork, they are done once the fork can penetrate all the way to the skin. Through and through.

steamed vegetable dumpling

Quickly peel the skin while they are still hot. Get rid of the peel and cover the pot to keep the potatoes warm.

Steamed vegetable  dumpling step by step

Heat some cooking oil and stir-fry garlic till fragrant

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Toss in minced dried shrimp that has been soaked and hydrated. I love the smell of the kitchen at this stage. There is something about dried seafood that I can’t really put words to describe it. The word in mind might be “stinky”.

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Add grated carrot and jicama and mix well.

 Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Add sliced french beans and the other seasonings.

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Quickly stir-fry for a couple of more minutes. You would want the vegetables to be crunchy, so don’t overcook them. Set them aside for later use.

Tapioca starch

This is the tapioca starch that is used as binding agent.

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Remove the cooked sweet potatoes from the steamer and place them on kitchen counter and start mashing them together using whatever means necessary.

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

When it is all mashed up nicely without any nasty lump – this is important, no lumps! I am sure there are other more effective means of mashing the sweet potatoes, but this is the only way I have ever done it. Add the tapioca starch and work on them quickly until they become hard-dough.

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

This is how it looks like. Light yellow skin dough. The final color of the skin will depends on the type of sweet potato used.

Remove a part of the dough and drop them into boiling water and cook them for a while.

Remove a part of the dough and drop them into boiling water and cook them for a while. When they are fully cooked and ready to be used, the dough will float to the surface of the boiling water. They are ready to be used when they reach this stage.

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Combine the cooked dough back to the first batch and work on it slowly as the wet dough would be very hot. Adding the cooked dough into the uncooked dough will result in pliable skin that is easier to handle.

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Divide the dough into 6 smaller batches (or however much you think you can work with easily)

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Generously flour the work surface with tapioca starch. Roll individual dough ball into 0.25cm thickness sheet.

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Use a round cutter of 15cm in diameter and start shaping the dumpling skin. Work through the other balls. Stack the skin on a flat plate and cover them with clean kitchen towel

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Put a couple of spoonfuls of filling in the middle of the skin.

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Fold the skin into half and seal the edges by pressing the two sides together. Using your thumb, fold a small part of the skin (about 1cm) inwards and press harder so the skin will stick together. Repeat this through the whole side of the dumpling, from right to left.

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

Prepare the steamer line the base with oiled banana leaves. Boil the water before placing the dumpling into the steamer. Arrange the dumplings on the banana leaves. Steamed for 15-20 minutes

Steamed vegetable dumpling step by step

This is how they look like when they are nicely steamed. Brush some garlic oil on them to prevent sticking and tearing prematurely. Aren’t they beautiful?

They can last for up to 1 day without refrigeration. If refrigerated, they are good to go for 2 days. Steam them for 10 minutes before serving.

Steamed vegetable dumplings

Enjoy them with chili sauce!


Steamed Vegetable Dumplings

Makes 30-40 dumplings


Skin wrapper
1 kg sweet potatoes
250 g tapioca starch

1/2 cup cooking oil
2 garlic cloves
50 g dried shrimp, soaked and minced
1 kg jicama, grated
250 g carrot, grated
75 g french beans, cut diagonally and thinly
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tbsp sugar (optional)


To prepare skin wrapper
Steam the potatoes for 30 minutes until soft. Peel the skin off and place them on clean working surface
Mash them till fine. Make sure there is no lumps at all.
Add the starch to the mashed sweet potatoes and work through it till they resemble yellow dough.
Take 75 g of the dough and drop it into a pan of boiling water. Cook it for 2 minutes, until it floats up to the surface of the boiling water.
Remove it from water and add back to the first batch of dough. Carefully knead them until the dough is soft and pliable.
Flour working surface with starch and roll them into thin sheet of 0.25cm thickness. Use a big round cutter of 15cm in diameter to cut the sheet. Cover the wrapper with clean kitchen towel to prevent drying.

To prepare the filling
Heat the cooking oil in a wok large enough to handle the all the filling ingredients
Stir-fry garlic till fragrant for about a minute. Toss in minced dried shrimp and stir-fry for a bit longer.
Toss in all both grated carrot and jicama and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes.
Add sliced beans and cook for 2 more minutes before removing from heat. Set aside for later use.

To make the dumpling
Take a couple of spoonfuls of filling and place them in the middle of a wrapper. Fold it right in the middle and carefully press both ends together to seal them. Make small indentations around the sides.

To steam the dumpling
Boil some water in a double broiler or a pot used for steaming. Line the top steamer rack (or a bamboo steamer) with oiled banana leaves. Arrange the dumplings on the leaves with 2cm space around them. Steam the dumplings over high heat for 15-20 minutes. When cooked, brush them with garlic oil generously. This will make the dumplings easier to handle, as the oil will keep the skin from drying.

Disclaimer :

The hands featured were my auntie Lily’s – she can make these with her eyes closed, that’s how good she is! The step-by-step shots of the filling are actually double the recipe listed above. We would like to have leftover of the fillings for dinner, to be served with steamed rice.

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19 Responses to “Steamed Vegetable Dumpling, Chai Pao”

  1. 1

    Gertrude — November 22, 2010 @ 8:11 am

    oh wow!! I just love the vibrant color of the dumpling skin. Actually this is the first time I see sweet potato being used for the wrappers just like the angku kueh. I already bookmark this to try it out. Thanks for sharing Jun.

    • Jun replied: — November 22nd, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

      I did some googling, the skin method is the same as Taiwanese vege gyoza. Never heard of it myself. Thank you for your kind comment. The color of the skin depends greatly on the color of the sweet potatoes used. :)

  2. 2

    Pepy @Indonesia Eats — November 22, 2010 @ 10:38 am

    Jun, you might want using a baking method for sweet potatoes as they are easier to be peeled off. So wrap the whole sweet potatoes in aluminium foil, bake. When they are done, wait for 10 min to cool down and peel. I use sweet potatoes for siomay peanut sauce. :)

    • Jun replied: — November 22nd, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

      Oh yeah .. that is a great idea!

  3. 3

    tigerfish — November 22, 2010 @ 11:07 am

    I like chai pao but never tried them in sweet potato skin. Oh yes, these are so delicate. I recalled breaking the skin while lifting them off the plate! :O

    • Jun replied: — November 22nd, 2010 @ 10:02 pm

      Gosh I almost forgot that I saw this in markets across Singapore. Quite similar to Malaysian’s chai kueh though.

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. 4

    pigpigscorner — November 23, 2010 @ 7:48 am

    I like the colour of the skin! I’ve never had these in sweet potato skin too, sounds like a pain to me =(

    • Jun replied: — November 23rd, 2010 @ 11:10 am

      It is a pain. But the end result is so pretty!

  5. 5

    Tuty — November 23, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    This is the first time I saw savory dumplings with sweet potato skin. The filling reminds me so much of Choi Pan but the skin of Chai Pao is definitely worth trying. Thank you and your aunty for sharing your family treasured recipe.

    • Jun replied: — November 28th, 2010 @ 1:32 am

      Choi Pan .. Never heard of it before. I love all types of dumplings! I wish there’s easier way to make this ..

  6. 6

    Inspired2cook — November 27, 2010 @ 10:11 am

    I absolutely love your site! Your food looks amazing! Hard to believe you only started cooking a few years ago. Good job!!!

    • Jun replied: — November 28th, 2010 @ 1:32 am

      I started cooking less than 3 years ago! I guess there’s a will there’s a way! But I have had a LOT of help, more than you can imagine. :D

  7. 7

    Kita — November 27, 2010 @ 10:08 pm

    These dumplings have such beautiful colors and look amazing. I have been itching to make dumplings again soon but its really hard to pull my boyfriend away from his moms recipe. Maybe I could sneak these in somehow. :)

    • Jun replied: — November 28th, 2010 @ 1:33 am

      Wow I would love to try his mom’s recipe! Must be extremely good that the son is so dedicated to it!

  8. 8

    Trudy ~ Veggie num num — December 10, 2010 @ 4:29 pm

    Yum!! The dumplings look so pretty and super delicious, I love the flavour of sweet potato and imagine it would add a lovely element to these… so good!!

    • Jun replied: — December 14th, 2010 @ 11:16 am

      This is one of my most favorite dumplings. Well, what am I talking about. I love all dumplings!

  9. 9

    Andy — February 27, 2012 @ 5:35 am

    I’ve tried ur recipe and it always comes out great. Yours is even tastes better than my grandma’s :) Chai pao is a very famous snack for us indonesian chinese,especially for hokkianese who live in medan city. My grandma’s recipe is almost the same as yours, the only difference is she boils the sweet potato instead of steam it. Btw, do you have any advice how to prevent the skin from tearing? I brush them with oil and handle them carefully,but they always tear apart. Thx a lot…

    • Jun replied: — March 12th, 2012 @ 7:33 am

      They would tear less if you roll it thicker? I think that would be the best solution. I am glad you tried this recipe and it works.

  10. 10 — July 16, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get three emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?

    Many thanks!

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