Dumpling Strikeouts in San Francisco

I took a business trip to San Francisco and took some time out to sample dumplings.  I hit my favorite spots in Chinatown first, but struck out on the dumpling front.

Chinese Broccoli and Salt and Pepper Prawns at yuet Lee.

Yuet Lee Seafood Restaurant is a San Francisco institution that has been around for almost 40 years.  Its open until 3 a.m. which, being a full hour past bar closing time in San Francisco, has made Yuet Lee a favorite late night, last stop.  It’s head and shell on, salt and pepper prawns are frequently written about in the press and are as excellent as their reviews suggest.  But a less well known gem on the menu is the Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce.  Also the Village Style Roast Squab is really good. Unfortunately, I had totally forgotten that they don’t serve dumplings.

Pork Pot Stickers

I also hit the Great Eastern Restaurant in Chinatown which is a large Hong Kong-style seafood restaurant with a wall of tanks in the back housing fish, shrimp and crab.  Great Eastern has been around since 1986 and has built a strong reputation, back in 2012 President Obama stopped in to pick up take-out.  Some of my favorite dishes are the steamed whole black bass, the pan fried flounder and sauteed clams with black bean sauce.  They have quite a few dumpling options which I haven’t really tried before, so I kicked off diner with the Pork Pot Stickers.  Unfortunately, it appears that seafood really is their thing and Pot Stickers are not.  The dumpling wrappers were thick and heavy and the filling was mushy.

Reviews of more successful outings coming up next.

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Asian Taste, Northampton, MA

Asian Taste opened a little under a month ago and doesn’t seem to want anyone to know its exists, no web page, Facebook, Instagram or internet presence at all.  The only mention of the restaurant that I can find online is in the minutes of the town license commission meeting when it applied for its alcohol license. The menu is mainly Thai with a few Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese dishes added to the menu.  Their vegetarian Pad Thai and Cashew Tofu were both excellent and can be made vegan.

Deep fried vegetable dumplings

The Dumplings:  Asian Taste has seven varieties of house made dumplings: Asian Steamed Dumplings, filled with shrimp, chicken, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and black mushrooms; Asian Fried Dumplings, filled with shrimp, chicken, glass noodles, sweet corn and ginger; Steamed or Deep Fried Vegetable Dumplings, filled with cabbage, seasoned tofu and carrots; Crab Rangoon, filled with cream cheese, crab meat and minced vegetables; and Fried or Steamed Shumai filled with either shrimp or edamame.

I tried the Fried Vegetable Dumplings, which were deep fried so the wrapper was like a crispy wonton.  The filling was more on the savory fake meat, rather than leafy green, end of the vegetable dumpling filling continuum, and tasted quite good.  It was pretty obvious that the dumplings were home made, they varied a lot in how much they were stuffed with filling and the number and style of pleats.  These dumplings are vegan.

The Dipping Sauce: The dumplings are served on a plate with a built in dipping sauce pool, but it was really too small to dip the dumplings in.  The sauce itself was a fairly basic soy and vinegar mix.

The Location:  Asian Taste is so under the radar it doesn’t even show up on Google Maps and Street View shows the predecessor restaurant.  It is at 84 Pleasant Street in Northampton, which is not even on the main downtown drag, so I doubt passerby foot traffic will make up for the lack of internet visibility.

Posted in Crab Rangoon, Japanese, Korea, Shrimp, Shumai, Thai, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | Leave a comment

104 Broadway Farms, New York, NY

Kimchi dumplings to-go

The Korean family owned corner deli/grocery store has been a staple in New York City for over 40 years.  The phenomena of Korean owned grocery stores started in the ’70s and spread across NYC providing a quintessential ethnic employment niche for new immigrants, and often these stores were the only source of fresh produce and food in low-income neighborhoods. Back in the late 90’s the corner Korean deli-market across from my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen was a reliable source for breakfast sandwiches with egg, cheese and ham , fresh fruit and a limited selection of greens, dairy products, a cold and hot salad bar for lunch, and fresh cut, but short lived, roses and as a bonus they would deliver beer to my apartment.

Unfortunately the business has been in slow decline since the early 2000’s (there is a 2011 NY Times article here); my old deli-market is now a bank.  A Queens College sociologist estimates that in 1995 there were ~2,500 Korean groceries in NYC, a number that had fallen to about 2,000 by 2005.  Other evidence of the shifting business is that in 2000 the Korean-American Grocers Association of New York had over 600 members, and by the time of the 2011 NY Times article there were only about 300 active members.

Pan fried Kimchi dumplings

104 Broadway Farms has expanded from the usual Korean deli offerings and is selling house cooked Korean food to-go. From the deli counter they sell roasted sweet potatoes, Bibimbap, and beef bulgogi, and on the cooler shelves in the back they have tubs of kimchi, mung bean pancakes and other jun, and cooked dumplings stuffed with pork, shrimp, chicken or kimchi.  I grabbed a tray of 10 kimchi dumplings and pan- fried them up at home.  The dumplings were stuffed with minced Napa cabbage kimchi and textured tofu that gave them a somewhat meaty mouth feel.  The kimchi was really good and instead of just being spicy, it had a complex, fermented umami flavor.  The mung bean pancakes were also really great.

It is almost self-explanatory, but 104 Broadway Farms is on Broadway at 104th street.

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Momo Tibetan Restaurant

Amherst, MA recently gained a new, ostensibly Tibetan, restaurant called Momo Tibetan Restaurant.  The Tibetan dishes seem to be confined to the appetizers and Momo sections of the menu, otherwise the dishes appear to be mainly Americanized-Chinese fare.

Shogkuk Momo

The Dumplings:  there are five types of Momo on the menu; on the appetizer menu there is Shogkok Momo (Potato Momo) and on the Momo section of the entree menu they have Vegetable (filled with bok choy), Pork, Beef, and Organic Beef/Lamb Momo.  All of the Momo on the entree menu are flavored with minced onions and coriander.

The Shogkok Momo are listed on the menu as being steamed but the server claimed they are actually usually deep fried.  After a couple of nights of eating junk food, I decided to go healthy(ier) and went for the steamed preparation.  The Momos are all made from scratch in house and at lunch mine were rolled out and filled to order.  The filling was simple – potato, butter and chopped green onions – basically an amazing creamy mashed potato inside a dumpling wrapper.  The Shogkok Momo were a simple but very satisfying plate of dumplings.

Dipping Sauces: Each table at Momo Tibetan Restaurant has squeeze bottles of soy sauce, Hoisin sauce and Sriracha sauce.  The Hoisin sauce went really well with the Shogkok Momo.

The Location:  Momo Tibetan Restaurant is in Amherst MA, on the main drag of restaurants and stores on North Pleasant Street, just outside of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst campus.       

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At Last the Dumpling Emoji

The dumpling emoji will display as a soup dumpling on Facebook.

Emoji 5.0 was recently released with 69 new Unicode Consortium approved Emoji, which when gender and variations in skin tone are taken into account yields 239 new emoji.  This emojji update includes the dumpling emoji, which will be displayed as different dumpling types depending on the platform you are using, from soup dumplings to gyoza to something that resembles an Empanada.

This might even supplant my current favorite emoji, the “Man in Business Suit Levitating” aka the rube boy/ska guy/Walt Jabsco emoji.  MIBL was created in the late 90’s for the MS Explorer Web Browser version of the Wingdings font (Wingding for M), by the same guy who created the Comic Sans font.  In 2014 the Unicode Consortium added many of the Wingdings images to Unicode 7, including MIBL (U+1F574), and he was incorporated into Emoji 1.0 in 2014.

Man in Business Suit Levitating on Apple iOS 10.3

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Return to Ginger Garden, Amherst, MA

I reviewed Ginger Garden about 4 years ago and at the time predicted it would become my new Western, MA go-to dumpling spot. It turns out I was wrong, Oriental Flavor and then Oriental Taste became my go-to spots.  But I did return to Ginger Garden recently to try some more dumplings. Since I was there last, they have merged their Traditional Chinese menu with their main pan-Asian menu and I am not sure if all the traditional dishes made the transfer.  This time around  I tried the pan-fried veggie dumplings and the Crab Rangoon.

Veggie Dumplings

The pan-fried veggie dumplings were stuffed with vermicelli glass noodles and shredded cabbage with a little bit of carrot.  Unfortunately, glass noodles and cabbage generally lack flavor and this filling mix was not seasoned with anything.  So overall these dumplings tasted like fried dumpling dough, which in this case were pretty thick and chewy.  As usual with a flavor challenged dumpling I used them as a sauce delivery vehicle, luckily their sweetened soy and vinegar dipping sauce had a good sweet and sour flavor.  They use egg in the dough wrapper so these veggie dumplings are vegetarian but not vegan.

Crab Rangoon

Crab Rangoon is rumored to have been originated at Trader Vic’s in San Francisco, it has been on the menu there since 1956.  The Crab Rangoon at Ginger Garden are made with wonton wrappers stuffed with the traditional cream cheese and in theory faux crab meat, and then the whole affair is deep fried.  The ones I got were almost exclusively stuffed with cream cheese with no discernible faux crab meat.  I admit that I enjoyed, somewhat guiltily, the molten cream cheese and crunchy fried wonton.  These stuffed wontons were served with a side of duck sauce.

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Dumpling Galaxy, Queens, NY

The Chinese name for Dumpling Galaxy is ‘100 Kinds of Dumpling Garden’, I didn’t take the time to count up all the menu options but I think I could easily spend the rest of 2017’s blog posts solely reporting on Dumpling Galaxy’s menu.  The owner, Helen You, was taught to cook by her mother and grandparents in Tianjin China and first brought her skills to the Tianjin Dumpling House, a stall jammed into the middle of the Golden Shopping Mall.  Like her neighbor, Xi’an Famous Foods, she expanded out from the Golden Mall to open the full service Dumpling Galaxy.  Helen You also recently published the Dumpling Galaxy cookbook.

Duck and Mushroom Dumplings

The Dumplings: The dumplings at Dumpling Galaxy are handmade and stuffed to order, which I have never seen before. As a result it takes a little while for the plates to come out of the kitchen, but it is worth the wait.   The menu heavily features Northern style boiled dumplings, but also includes Shanghai style soup dumplings, southern Chinese steamed seafood dumplings and desert dumplings.

Lamb and Pickled Vegetable Dumplings

Of the three plates of dumplings we tried it is hard to pick a favorite.  The boiled Duck and Mushroom dumplings were juicy with a meaty mouth feel and a flavor that, both I and my lunch companion agreed, could best be described as ‘earthy’.  I know that ‘earthy’ doesn’t sound good, so don’t get us wrong, we loved these dumplings, but ‘earthy’ was the word that came to mind to describe the flavor.  I think it was a combination of the mild gaminess of the duck meat mixed with the umami of the mushroom that builds this flavor profile.

Next up was the boiled Lamb and Pickled Vegetables dumplings, which were also great.  Lamb also has a slightly gamey savory flavor that is more complex than that of beef or pork and in these dumplings the lamb was highlighted by the sharp, bright, pungent flavor of brine-pickled vegetables.  The pickles were crunchy and appeared to be root vegetable of some sort, maybe turnips or daikon.  While I still have 97 dumpling options to select from at Dumpling Galaxy, I am going to have to get these again when I return there.

Pan Fried Pork Dumplings

Dumpling Galaxy makes my favorite preparation of pan-fried pork dumplings. The dumplings are cooked so they are embedded into a pancake of fried batter.  They are made by pouring a thin slurry of water and cornstarch into the fry pan as the dumpling cook.  As the water in the slurry evaporates, the cornstarch and flour in the dumpling dough forms a paper-thin layer of crispy fried starch across the pan that holds the dumplings in a single sheet.

The Dipping Sauce:  Each of the dumpling plates came with a standard dipping sauce of soy and vinegar, clearly the focus here is on the dumpling varieties and they aren’t doing much to elevate the sauce.

The Location:  Dumpling Galaxy is in Flushing Queens, which has become a major center for Chinese immigrants in New York City.  The Flushing Chinatown abuts a thriving Koreatown neighborhood and so there are a lot of great Asian restaurants and grocery stores in this area of Queens.  For anyone serious about Asian food, you have to make the pilgrimage to  Flushing Main Street.  Dumpling Galaxy is located in a shopping center at 42-35 Main Street in Flushing.

Posted in Boiled, Chinese, Duck, Lamb, New York City, Pan Fried, Pork, Potsticker | Leave a comment

Yakitori Sun Chan, New York, NY

Wasabi Shumai

Long time readers of this blog know that I am a huge fan of Yakitori Sun Chan, prior posts are here and here.  They were knocked out of commission for over six months by Con Ed’s problems with the gas supply but they are back, being re-embraced by the neighborhood and rebuilding their business.  Sun Chan is just a great neighborhood izakaya, with awesome yakitori skewers, Japanese small plates, onigiri, stir fry dishes (the Buta Kimchi is killer), and dumplings, including Pork Gyoza, Vegetable Gyoza, Shrimp Shumai, Wasabi Shumai and Takoyaki.

I recently tried the steamed Wasabi Shumai which use a green dough wrapper and are filled with shrimp, water chestnuts and wasabi.  They don’t have much flavor beyond wasabi, they are basically wasabi volcanoes that will roto-root your sinuses out – in a good way.   Shumai are often soft and a little mushy but the water chestnuts in the filling gives these shumai a great crunch texture. These dumplings are a fun after-work snack that go great with an Asahi beer.

Posted in Shrimp, Shumai, Steamed | Leave a comment

Dumplings in the News

The NY Times ran an article on two new dumpling ventures in NYC.  They report that a branch of the Hong Kong based dim sum restaurant Tim Ho Wan has opened in the East Village.  Tim Ho Wan was started by the chef Mak Kwai Pui, who had previously been in charge of dim sum at the Four Seasons hotel in Hong Kong. He and his partner, Leung Fai Keung, struck out on their own to build the back to basics and affordable Tim Ho Wan chain.

The second restaurant the Times reported on was Pinch Chinese in Soho which specializes in Xaio Long Bao.  The chef Charlie Chen is an expatriate from the Taiwanese Din Tai Fung chain.  The times article pitched this opening as New Yorker’s first local opportunity to try the Din Tai Fung aesthetic, but as I have argued before, Din Tai Fung is over rated and there are excellent soup dumplings to be had in New York City.

I will be working my way around to both of these restaurants in the coming months.

Veggie Dumplings at Oriental Taste, Northampton, MA

A friend pointed me to a great 2015 article on WGBH CravingBoston on the culinary origins and history of dumplings, once again reviving the argument of what counts as a dumpling.  A few of my favorite quotes:

“Written descriptions can be found in Apicius, a collection of ancient Roman recipes written at the turn of the fourth century, as well as in Chinese records dating back to the Song dynasty (960 – 1279), though they surely predate such accounts. Due to their simplicity, the prevailing theory among scholars is that dumplings likely developed independently throughout the world, with no single country or region able to claim the patent.”

Dr. Ken Albala is quoted as saying:

“Dumpling originally refers to a roundish blob of dough dropped directly into boiling water or broth. So bread and crumb mixtures you find all over Eastern Europe are proper dumplings,” he said. “Asian dumplings are nothing of the kind, they’re noodles with fillings, boiled or steamed. It was a mistake to call them that in the first place.”

The article continues to explain:

The reason for the confusion is simple: English is limited. We use Latin to classify species, French for cooking terminology, and our curse-words fall far below global averages in both creativity and imagery. English lacks the linguistic specificity to account for all the various forms of regional foods, so the word dumpling was applied wholesale, creating a bitterly divisive semantic debate.

Alan Davidson, author of The Oxford Companion to Food, finds these taxonomic broad strokes particularly offensive to his originalist interpretation. He takes issue with “the numerous tribe of dumpling lookalikes, things which are neither dumplings nor English, but have been called dumplings, when an English name for them has been required.” The application of the word to East Asian dumplings is particularly offensive to Davidson, who calls it a “heinous excursion.”

The debate about what constitutes a dumpling is then picked up in a series of comments from Boston based chefs.

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Happy Hot Hunan Restaurant, New York, NY

Happy Hot Hunan Restaurant opened back in 2015 in a prior location of the Wondee Siam chain.  The new owners kept the dining room fixtures, threw up some Chinese decorations and started cooking traditional Hunan style food – there is very little American-Chinese food on the menu.  The chairs and tables have grown chipped and worn, but the kitchen is turning out some good food.  The place seems to be very popular with Chinese international students at Columbia.

The Dumplings:  The appetizers section of the menu is where they keep the dumplings.  They have on offer: House Steamed Pork Soup Buns, Steamed Crab & Pork Soup Buns, Spicy Steamed Pork Soup Bun, Steamed or Fried Vegetable Dumpling, Fried Beef Dumpling, Spicy Fried Beef Dumpling, Shrimp Dumpling, Pot Stickers, Steamed Pork Dumpling, Fried Pork Buns, Small Pork Buns, White Shumai, and Brown Shumai.

Spicy Steamed Pork Soup Buns, Steamed Vegetable Dumplings,  Fried Pork Buns and Brown Shumai

Spicy Steamed Pork Soup Buns – These soup dumplings checked all of the quality boxes – all of the dumpling wrappers were intact when the steamer was opened, the wrappers were thin and supple and just thick enough to contain the soup, and the pork filling was finely textured and savory.  The added features of these dumplings were the ground chili pepper mixed into the filling that made a spicy soup and the dab of chili paste placed on the top of each dumpling.  The spice level was pretty high, but the taste was a little one note.  It didn’t have the complexity of flavor and heat of the spicy kimchi and pork soup dumplings at LaSalle Dumpling Room.

Steamed Vegetable Dumplings – These dumplings look identical to the veggie dumplings served at Oriental Taste in Northampton MA, so I assumed they were frozen dumplings and both places were using the same brand.  But the waiter insisted they were house made. These dumplings were filled with chopped greens, carrots, tofu and shiitake mushrooms and were really flavorful.

Fried Pork Buns – These were my least favorite of the dumplings I sampled, they were not bad, just not as good as the others. The pork filling was tasty but was quite dry, these buns are supposed to be juicy, sometimes almost like a soup dumpling filling. The bun itself was also dry and not particularly fluffy.  Usually this dish is garnished with sesame seeds and slivered scallions, neither of which made an appearance in Happy Hot Hunan’s version.

Brown Shumai – These shumai were Shanghai style but wrapped in a wheat flour, rather than rice flour, dough wrapper which I found to be a little mushy, but otherwise I liked these dumplings a lot. This style of shumai is filled with a dirty rice that is cooked with ground pork and diced shiitake mushrooms and has finely diced Chinese sausage mixed in.  The filling they make at Happy Hot Hunan was really flavorful with lots of umami from the mushrooms and sweet and savory from the pork.

The Dipping Sauce:  Happy Hot Hunan Restaurant serves a pretty standard soy, rice vinegar and sesame oil mix dipping sauce.  It worked pretty well as a compliment to the dumplings but wasn’t anything special.

The Location: the restaurant is located in New York’s Manhattan Valley neighborhood, just south of Columbia University.  There is a growing cluster of excellent Chinese dumpling spots in this area whose business is buoyed by the Chinese international students at Columbia.   Happy Hot Hunan Restaurant is on Amsterdam Avenue between 107th and 108th streets.

Posted in Buns, Chinese, New York City, Pork, Soup Dumpling, Vegan, Vegetarian | 1 Comment