A new take on traditional wontons

These juicy wontons are filled with pork mince, prawns and celery, and served in a light broth fragrant with sesame and soy.

From meaty to veggie, fried to boiled, traditionally flavoured to globally inspired, there’s a wonton to suit most palates. Wontons, unlike dumplings, tend to be made with a thin, square wrapper and served in soups. While eaten all over China, they are more popular in the southern part of the country, including Shanghai.

Chef Kathy Fang is an expert on how to infuse a wonton with Shanghainese flavours. Fang grew up in the kitchen of her family’s much lauded San Francisco restaurant, House of Nanking. She opened Fang restaurant in 2009 with her father, Peter, with whom she appears in a docuseries called Chef Dynasty: House of Fang. Fang is also a two-time champion on Food Network’s Chopped.

[jump to recipe]

Wontons are a staple in Shanghainese families, usually made monthly and in bulk. In Fang’s busy family, it wasn’t often that she and her parents got to spend quality time together. But once a month, after they finished the late shift at the restaurant, everyone in her family would gather at home, stay up far past bedtime and make wontons together from scratch. They would boil the wontons, eat them around the table and wrap more to freeze for future use.

Wontons filled with pork mince was a standby for the family. But Fang has riffed on the traditional recipe to create juicy bites filled with pork mince as well as prawns and celery, served in a light broth fragrant with sesame and soy.

“This version in particular is a favourite of mine,” said Fang, “because the celery adds a nice fresh crunch. It also releases liquid, which makes the filling more juicy. You can’t get any healthier than celery; zero calorie, full of fibre. I like to add prawns to lighten up the filling a bit.”

Fang explained that there are three things that distinguish Shanghai wontons from their regional siblings: the way they’re wrapped; the ratio of pork to prawns; and the inclusion of seasonal vegetables. For example, in Shanghai, wontons are commonly wrapped using the diamond or bonnet technique. In more southern regions of China, like Guandong or Hong Kong, the scrunch method is more common.

There are also key distinctions in the broth. Southern regions serve wontons in pork-based broths that are light in flavour and made with dried prawns. Shanghai wontons are typically served in a broth with a base of soy sauce or chicken stock.

Despite regional differences, Fang likes to customise the fillings. “These days there are vegetarian versions with tofu and bok choy, and I’ve done a version with Italian sausage and mushrooms,” she said. “Now that we’re exposed to so many ingredients, we can put different things in wontons that aren’t so traditional anymore!” For those who don’t eat pork, chicken mince, turkey mince or finely minced tofu can all be substituted. 

In addition to fillings, you can adjust the seasonings. Fang says the traditional seasonings, whether the wonton is vegetable or prawn, include sesame oil and the right balance of salt and sugar. If you’re using pork or another protein, seasonings can include white pepper, soy sauce, liquid aminos (a gluten-free substitute for soy sauce), sake, mirin or Chinese wine, which is great for bringing out the flavour of pork.

Most adults eat wontons in a single bite, but children often need their wonton cut into smaller pieces, which makes the filling spills out. When Fang was a child, her mother helped her to make tiny wontons, perfectly sized for a mini chef (and eater). As Fang grew, so did her wontons, until one day they reached the standard size, and she could officially call herself a big kid.

Now as a mother, Fang follows the same steps with her own children. “It’s really sweet to watch my kids grow through wontons because I associate that with family. My mom started that tradition by making the baby ones, and then I caught on and was like ‘Oh, that’s brilliant!’.” 

This tradition has now been passed down to Fang’s own children and she hopes that it will continue for generations to come. Recipes, like wontons, highlight the importance of community; multiple generations gathering around a table and passing down culinary knowledge.

Fang said, “You don’t have to spend a ton of money to create memories [bringing] family [together] over something as simple as a wonton.”

Shanghai wontons filled with pork mince, prawns and celery (Credit: Kathy Fang)

Shanghai Wontons with Prawns, Pork and Celery recipe
By Kathy Fang 

Serves 1 (10-12 wontons) 


For the wontons:
225g (½lb) pork mince
6 prawns (about 80g or 3oz), peeled and deveined, finely minced
½ cup finely minced celery hearts (the tender inner stalks)
1 egg, whisked
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dashi powder (omit if you can’t find it)
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp Shaoxing wine, sake or mirin
½ tsp salt
12 wonton wrappers (thin, square ones, often labelled Hong Kong-style) 

For the soup:
475ml (2 cups) chicken broth (store bought or homemade)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp finely minced green onions
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
pinch of white pepper
pinch of salt

To serve:
1 tsp chilli-black bean oil (optional)
½ tsp garlic-chilli oil (optional)


Step 1
In a bowl, mix all the wonton ingredients (except the wonton wrappers) with 2 tbsp of water until fully incorporated.

Step 2
Make the dumplings. Spoon 1 to 1½ tsp of filling in the centre of a wrapper. Fold one corner to the other and seal with water, forming a triangle. With the point facing up and the flat side facing down, dab the right corner with water and bring the left side over to the right; press together to form a wonton (this should look like a pointed tortellini). Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.

Step 3
Bring the chicken broth to a simmer. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Boil the wontons until they float. 

Step 4
In a large bowl, add the soy, green onions, sesame oil, white pepper and salt. Place the wontons on top and ladle the broth over. To kick up the flavour and heat, drizzle with chilli-black bean oil and/or garlic-chilli oil, if desired.


  1. Instead of water, whisk broth into the filling for additional flavour. 
  2. Extra wonton skins can be frozen; wrap them tightly and place in a zip lock bag. Simply defrost in the fridge when ready to use.
  3. You can get creative with the vegetables. As long as the total amount of vegetable is ½ cup minced, feel free to use the following (or a combination, if you like): minced cucumber skin, fennel, mustard greens, spinach, bok choy, cabbage, chives or kale.

BBC.com’s World’s Table “smashes the kitchen ceiling” by changing the way the world thinks about food, through the past, present and future.


Join more than three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called “The Essential List”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

You may also like...