Whether you're traveling through Italy, or Mongolia, or China, one thing remains constant -- everyone is judging your fanny pack. But the other constant is dumplings. Every culture around the world has their own version of this doughy, filled-up foodstuff, packed with anything from cheese to camel meat. But only one can be the best.
14. SPÄTZLE As simple as dumplings can get, the Central European spätzle consist of dough dropped into boiling water and boiled. Not much effort here, and typically not a ton of flavor either -- spätzle are usually served alongside a richer dish as a side, and dumplings should be bold! Sure, you could add cheese and other stuff on top to give 'em some extra kick, but that shouldn't be necessary.
13. SAMOSA While potato-and-pea-stuffed samosas are a staple at every Indian buffet meal in America, these dumpling behemoths so often suffer from a problem of density: The insides are often dry, owing to the sheer amount of stuff within. Better with some tamarind chutney, to be sure, but too often they're picked apart for the golden-fried outside than the filling within.
12. MANTI Manti are present in pretty much every cuisine from Korean to Turkish, and they're representative of a standard dumpling -- nothing special, but nothing too offensive either. Usually filled with minced meat, onions, and spices and doused in butter, they can hold their own against other dishes.
11. MOMO The Nepalese momo is similar to manti, and contains anything from pork, chicken, or buffalo to cheese and pureed tomatoes, but what sets it apart is that it's intricately braided and usually served with an accompanying chutney, which puts it ever-so-slightly above its competition.
10. PIEROGI The instantly recognizable half-circles of Eastern European extraction have gained popularity in the US, and are made by stuffing dough with minced beef, onions, sauerkraut, cheese, or fruit and then boiling and baking them. Usually in butter. Their versatility is a huge asset.
9. KREPLACH Traditional Jewish kreplach are, like their cousin the pierogi, stuffed with minced meat or potatoes, but they have a distinct advantage in that they're usually submerged in chicken soup to create what is one of the most comforting comfort foods around.
8. WONTON If you've ever eaten American Chinese food, you're familiar with wontons -- the dough squares are folded up with minced pork and onions, and are usually placed in a deliciously savory broth. Even better, they can be fried-up for a further-from-authentic treat.
7. GNOCCHI Gnocchi are another versatile and slightly more out-there type of dumpling, typically made as a meal's first course by forming semolina, wheat flour, or potato into small, rich globs cooked much like pasta. And, also like pasta, they can be dressed up however you like -- with marinara, pesto, ricotta cheese, or just a(n) (un)healthy dose of butter.
6. KUBBEH The Middle Eastern kubbeh (or kibbeh, or kibbe, or kebbah, or... how many spellings does this thing have?!) are a bit different from the others on this list in that they're made of bulgur, ground meat (usually beef or lamb... but sometimes camel!), spices, and onions molded into dumpling shapes and fried. The name even means "ball" in Arabic, so these things are kind of a shoo-in.
5. CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS OK, so the traditional Southern dish of chicken and dumplings contains dumplings that are eerily similar to spätzle in terms of the scarcity of ingredients, but what sets these bad boys apart is that they're made of biscuit dough that is simmered in chicken broth and, then, served warm. They'll warm any heart and/or stomach.
4. PELMENI These smaller, Russian cousins of pierogi are essentially the same with a key difference: The dough is rolled thinner, so there's a better ratio of dough to fillings. And if you want your pelmeni fix satisfied, you can always go to Paul's Pel'meni, which specializes in the stuff.
3. KHINKALI The Georgians have devised a dumpling for the ages -- khinkali are beef, pork, or onion-stuffed dumplings that contain uncooked meat that becomes edible when the dumplings are cooked. This means the juices are sealed in, and become a hot broth that's sucked out during the inaugural bite.
2. RAVIOLI You can't discuss dumplings without talking about ravioli, which are technically dumplings because they're made of dough and stuffed with... well, stuff. The stuff in question, however, is what gets them rated so highly. Italy's already treasured and emulated around the world for its superb cheeses and produce, and when they all get stuffed into a dumpling, it's obligated to be one of the top three. BUT NOT QUITE NUMBER ONE.
1. XIAOLONGBAO You haven't lived until you've tried xiaolongbao, the Chinese soup dumpling. These steamed treasures are marvels of Eastern engineering, and contain ACTUAL SOUP and delicious pork filling. How do they get the soup in there? Well, the broth is turned into a gel and added into the filling before the entire package is steamed to perfection and served on a bamboo platter. It's warm and comforting, savory, soupy, and meaty all rolled up into one. It is the ideal dumpling.
Adam Lapetina is a food/drink staff writer at Thrillist, and his life was changed when he had his first xiaolongbao one year ago. Read his musings on Twitter at @adamlapetina.