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.

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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

Coffee Break, New York, NY

Coffee Break is a french pastry coffee shop that suddenly decided to add Chinese food, primarily Shanghainese dishes, to its menu. Coffee Break caught my eye because the new signage advertised Pan Fried Buns (Sheng Jian Bao). The chef is from Shanghai and I guess he spotted that dumpling houses were opening up locally and doing good business with the international students at nearby Columbia University.  So Coffee Break is now a weird mash-up where you can get a croissant, palmier, macaron or napoleon and salted sausage vegetable rice, scallion pan cakes stuffed with beef, sliced beef & tripe in chili oil or omurice.

The Dumplings:  Coffee Break sells pork or pork and crab soup dumplings (Xiao Long Bao), pan-fried pork buns (Sheng Jian Bao), steamed buns with mushroom and bok choy, pan fried pork dumplings, steamed vegetable dumplings, steamed pork dumplings and steamed chicken dumplings.  I went with the pork soup dumplings and the pan-fried pork buns.

Sheng Jian Bao

Ever since eating at Yang’s Fried Dumplings in Shanghai (which is when I decided to launch this blog) I have been on a mission to find good Sheng Jian Bao in the U.S.  These buns are the cousin of the soup dumpling, that have slightly thicker dough wrappers that can withstand being fried and then steamed, and like soup dumplings are filled with a pork meat ball and pork aspic soup.  They are usually served with slivered scallions and sesame seeds sprinkled on top.  These buns are hugely popular in Shanghai and are traditionally eaten for breakfast.  The problem with most Sheng Jian Bao in the U.S. is that the bun is too thick and doughly/bready and the bun ends up absorbing all the soup.  The result is a flavorful moist bun wrapper but there is never any soup for slurping.

The Sheng Jian Bao at Coffee Break use the U.S. style bready buns but still somehow managed to have lots of soup inside that hadn’t soaked into the bun dough.  The soup was a little salty but a really flavorful fatty pork broth.  One of the reasons I like this style of soup dumpling is that the  pan roasting of the slightly sweet dough creates tasty Maillard reactions and some caramelization on the bottom of the bun that brings extra dimensions of flavor to the dumpling that you don’t get with steamed soup dumplings. I went to Coffee Break twice over a weekend before writing this review and in between my visits they went from six buns per serving to only four per serving.

Continuing with the soup dumpling theme, I also tried their pork Xiao Long Bao, which come four soup dumplings per order.   The order I got was a little overcooked, two of the dumplings came with tears in the wrappers and it was a struggle to pick the dumplings up without shredding the wrappers.  But, holy crap, the soup in these dumplings was amazing, it was like creamy, rich pork tonkotsu ramen broth.  These dumplings were a little hard to eat, but they were some of the most flavorful soup dumplings I have tried.

The Dipping Sauce:  there is a Kikkoman bottle on each table and the soup dumplings come with the typical black vinegar dipping sauce.  But really the soup inside these dumplings is so rich and tasty I don’t think you need dipping sauce.

The Location:  Coffee Break is in the Manhattan Valley neighborhood on Amsterdam Avenue between 105th and 106th streets, just north of the New York City Youth Hostel.

Posted in Buns, New York City, Sheng Jian Bao, Soup Dumpling, Xiao Long Bao | 3 Comments

Soy Boy Frozen Vegan Ravioli


Soy Boy’s Okara Courage Burger is my favorite burger replacement; okara is a by product of tofu production and is high in protein.  Their burger has a flavor and texture similar to falafel and has 14g of protein per burger.  Soy Boy launched in 1976 with a $7,000 loan and a plan to make organic tofu.  Their web site provides a list of healthful qualities for their products:  no preservatives, nothing artificial, USDA certified organic tofu, no GMO, low fat — no trans fat, low sodium and no cholesterol.  Here at Dumpling Hunter we are not yet on the no-GMO band wagon, we have been genetically modifying crops since before Gregor Mendel

Soy Boy vegan ravioli with home made marinara sauce

I just discovered that Soy Boy also makes frozen vegan tofu ravioli, they sell Original Ravioli (filled with seasoned tofu), Rosa Ravioli (tomato flavored pasta filled with tofu and roasted red pepper) and Verde Ravioli (spinach flavored pasta filled with garden herb-seasoned tofu).  The Original Ravioli are round and silver dollar sized and the tofu filling is seasoned with lemon juice, onions, garlic powder and herbs and spices.  The ravioli filling had a convincing ricotta cheese texture but I thought it was quite bland, maybe they have gone too far in the low sodium direction.  I think their filling could also have used some nutritional yeast to add some cheese and umami flavor.  Soy Boy’s ravioli are a convenient vegan dish, but I prefer the flavor profile of our vegan ravioli recipe.


Posted in Frozen Dumpling Review, Ravioli, Vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Tran’s World Market, Hadley, MA


Steamed Pork Bun

Fluffy bun filled with Chinese sausage, seasoned pork and a hard boiled egg.

Tran’s World Market is a family run Asian market in the Pioneer Valley, and probably the best local option for specialty Asian vegetables.  In addition to Asian groceries from a range of countries, they also sell groceries from South America, Africa, and the Middle East.  Tran’s also has an excellent selection of frozen dumplings and buns, and an endless selection of sauces and marinades.  They also have a variety of canned fish, crab and shrimp in spicy sauces that I am both intrigued and scared by.  Up by the cash register they sell sesame buns, Balut (fertilized chicken or duck eggs with an almost developed embryo inside) and recently, mom’s home made Steamed Pork Buns.

These fist sized, light and fluffy buns were amazing.  The ingredient sticker on the to-go tubs lists egg, onion, shallot, garlic, jicama, ground pork and pork sausage.  But this list doesn’t nearly do the filling of these buns justice, they are filled with big chunks of sweet and spicy Chinese sausage, half a hard boiled egg and wads of seasoned ground pork – delicious.  These are not traditional Chinese BBQ buns and I am torn in coming up with an analogy to describe them, they are like a full on-the-go breakfast but also remind me of Scotch Eggs.

The Location: Tran’s World Market is on Russell Street in Hadley, MA.  It is just past the bridge over the Connecticut river on the way from Northampton to Amherst, next to Mi Tierra Mexican restaurant.

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East Village Dumpling Tour

New York City’s East Village neighborhood is replete with dumpling eating options.  Historically the East Village was home to Eastern European immigrants and there are still some excellent places to get pierogi and varenyky.  Over the past 15 years a Little Tokyo has grown up around St. Marks Place and 9th street providing izakaya style pubs, sake bars and ramen joints, so  there are lots of options for gyoza and takoyaki.  More recently we have seen the rise of farm-to-table hipster Chinese dumpling spots.

On the map below you can click on any of the markers and click through to the Dumpling Hunter review.

Posted in Chinese, Gyoza, Japanese, New York City, Pierogi, Varenyky | Leave a comment

Drunken Dumpling, New York, NY

Drunken Dumpling and its giant soup dumplings has been the darling of the foodie and hipster dumpling eating world since it opened in the fall of 2016.  When I first sampled soup dumplings across Shanghai I was told by my guide that giant soup dumplings were a gimmick to attract tourists.  So I have always been skeptical of giant soup dumplings, but they seem to be working for the patrons of Drunken Dumpling.  The owner’s mom is the force in the kitchen, she was a mathematics professor in China but after emigrating to the US she took a position making soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai.  Drunken Dumpling is a small little joint, with tiny tables, so it is tough to fit three big guys around a table eating piles of dumplings.  Also, go there on off hours to avoid the lines.

The Dumplings:  Drunken Dumplings is all dumplings – they sell Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings), Jiaozi (pot stickers served pan fried or steamed) and Baozi (Buns).

Beef and Green Pepper Jiaozi, Chive & Egg Jiaozi, Pork Baozi and Pork Soup Dumplings

Beef and Green Pepper Jiaozi – I do not eat beef but my friends liked these dumplings and described the filling to me as being full flavored and tender.  I did witness that these dumplings were explosively juicy.  There were two instances at my table alone, of someone biting into one of these dumplings and either spraying themselves or the people sitting across from them with juice.

Chives and Egg Jiaozi – We got these dumplings pan-fried style and they arrived to our table cooked perfectly crispy on the bottom.  Unfortunately the filling was under seasoned – you have to put a little salt in eggs and these had none – and the chives didn’t have much flavor to speak of.  Usually in this circumstance I look on the bright side and use the dumplings as a sauce delivery vehicle, but the dipping sauces we were served at Drunken Dumpling were bad, almost inedible (see rant below).

Pork Baozi –  at Drunken Dumpling these buns come three to an order and are pretty big.  Typically these buns are served adorned with sesame seeds and scallion slivers and the ones we got had no seeds and only a few scallion slivers haphazardly scattered on the plate.  These dumplings were also a fail; two out of the three were under cooked, with some of the pork still semi-raw in the middle.

Pork Soup Dumplings – after the failures of the Baozi and the Chive dumplings, Drunken Dumpling did succeed with its soup dumplings.  I love the moment when the lid is removed from the steamer and the cloud of steam wafts out and the dumplings are revealed.  The first assessment of Xiao Long Bao quality is whether or not the all the dumplings in the steamer have intact wrappers and the second is whether the dumplings hold together when you pick them up.  The soup dumplings we got were intact and as I picked the first one up with my chopsticks, the dough pouch stretched precariously but kept it’s integrity. The wrappers were as thin and delicate as it seems possible to get and still contain the soup and meat ball filling. The soup was fatty and deeply flavored and the pork meat was finely textured, savory and well seasoned.  Their soup dumplings are pretty big and actually overwhelm the Chinese soup spoons they have at Drunken Dumpling, they need bigger spoons.

The Dipping Sauce:  The sauce served with the Jiaozi and Baozi was pure soy sauce, and not light sodium soy or regular sodium soy, but stroke inducing, super salty soy sauce.  The soy sauce was so salty it was essentially inedible, and so there was no way to redeem the flavorless Chive & Egg dumplings.

The Location:  Drunken Dumpling is in New York’s East Village neighborhood in what is fast becoming a dumpling alley stretching from East 8th street up to East 14th street.  They are on 1st avenue between St. Mark’s Place (8th street) and 9th street.

Posted in Buns, Chinese, New York City, Pan Fried, Pork, Potsticker, Shanghai, Soup Dumpling, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Ramen Yamadaya, Costa Mesa, CA

Ramen Yamadaya is a chain of ramen restaurants that stretches along the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego.  I tried the location in Costa Mesa and ordered the Tonkutsu Kotteri Ramen which comes with a slick of really tasty black garlic oil floating on top of the thick, fatty pork broth.  The Tonkutso pork bone soup is cooked for 20 hours, 10 hours at a high boil to break the bones into flakes, and then simmered for 10 hours to extract the flavors. The service at Yamadaya is idiosyncratic, with our three entrees brought to us over a 15 minute window and before the appetizer dumplings arrived.

The Dumplings:  the Ramen Yamadaya menu lists Takoyaki, Vegetable Gyoza, Pork Gyoza, and Spicy Gyoza.  They also serve Taiyaki which are fish shaped deserts made of a cooked, waffle like batter stuffed with red bean paste.  One of my lunch companions pointed out to me that using Dumpling Hunter’s definition of a dumplings, Taiyaki should be considered a type of desert dumpling.

Spicy Pork Gyoza

We ordered the Veggie Gyoza, which are vegan, but were denied because they were out of them that day.  Instead, we tried the inspired Spicy Gyoza which have thin, delicate wrappers and are filled with pork and minced kimchi. These house made dumplings were juicy and had a serious kick that was too much for one of my friends.  The bottoms of the dumplings were fried crispy and golden and then the dumplings were covered so the tops of the dumplings steam cooked.  My one complaint is that the dumplings were a little greasy.

The Dipping Sauce: Ramen Yamadaya serves a well balanced soy and rice vinegar dipping sauce, that I imagine would be great with the veggie or pork gyozas.  But the sauce was wasted on the Spicy Gyoza, the minced kimchi provided a built in spicy sauce that was all I needed with these dumplings.

The Location:  We hit the location in Costa Mesa in Orange County, south of LA.  This location is located in a nondescript strip mall type plaza and the intersection of Baker Street and Fairview Road, the exact address is 1175 Baker St. Costa Mesa, 92626.



Posted in Gyoza, Japanese, Kimchi, Los Angeles, Pork, Potsticker, Vegan, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Shanghai Heping Restaurant, NY, NY

Shanghai Heping Restaurant

When I moved to NYC in 1991 there was no user friendly internet or Yelp or Gothamist top 10 lists or Google reviews or foodie blogs, to find a new Chinese restaurant you had to walk through Chinatown and try and size up places by how they looked and what was hanging in the window (NY Noodle Town) or swimming in the fish tanks (original Danny Ng’s).   Lately I have been missing the spontaneity of just walking down a street in Chinatown and picking a new restaurant to eat at.  So this week I Google searched for “Dumplings in Chinatown” and randomly clicked on one of the many pins that appeared on Google maps and told my friends to meet me there.  Not quite the same as wandering down a street and randomly picking a place to eat, but more spontaneous than reading blog posts and Yelp reviews to pick a spot.  So this is how we ended up at Shanghai Heping Restaurant with its impressively large awning and sidewalk presence but a rather modest dining room.  Shanghai Heping Restaurant has lots of classic Shanghainese dishes and relatively little in the way of Americanized Chinese food.

The Dumplings:  In Shanghai Heping Restaurant we did not stumble on a hidden gem of dumpling greatness, overall the dumplings were good but not outstanding.  We tried the Pork & Crab Soup Dumplings, the Steam Seafood Dumplings, the Wontons Szechuan Style and the Fried Tiny Buns with Pork.  The menu also includes Pork Soup Dumplings, Vegetable Buns, fried or steamed Pork Dumplings, and Vegetable Steamed Dumplings.

Soup dumplings, Wontons Szechuan Style, Steamed Seafood Dumplings and Tiny Fried Buns

The Pork & Crab Soup Dumplings were quite good, with a lot of tasty crab roe and meat mixed onto the pork which gave the soup a yellow tinge, and the wrappers were just the right thickness to make supple little purses of filling and soup.  Unfortunately the quantity of soup in the dumplings was pretty skimpy and kind of thin tasting.  Maybe the larger mix of crab meat in the filling meant there was less pork and pork fat to flavor the soup.

The Wontons Szechuan Style were stuffed with a coarsely ground pork and either scallions or leeks, I am not sure which, and were quite good.  This is a sort of unusual filling for this dish, the wontons are usually filled with finely minced pork. The filling was similar to the filling you usually find in Chinese pan-fried pork dumplings.  The sauce was a mix of sesame chili oil and a smooth peanut sauce, that was tasty but lacked any real heat.  You will want to eat these dumplings quickly after they arrive to your table because the sauce thickens and gets gloppy when it cools.

The Steamed Seafood Dumplings, which appeared to be stuffed with a mix of shrimp and a white flaky fish, were pretty large and filling but lacked flavor.  They were basically a good vehicle for sopping up sauce and were useful for mopping up some of remaining Szechuan sauce from the wontons.

The Tiny Fried Buns with Pork are misnamed, the buns we got were big, bigger than a golf ball, like the size of a large satsuma or small tangerine.   The fluffy, bready white buns were pan-fried on the bottom and steam cooked on the top and were served sprinkled with sesame seeds and slivered scallions.  Generally I like the fluffy bread these buns are made of, but the meatball inside these buns was quite small and this dish mainly just filled me up without giving me much dumpling joy.   Like the Seafood Dumplings these buns were mainly good for sopping up sauce.

The Dipping Sauce:  Since I found the Seafood Dumplings and Tiny Fried Buns to be mainly useful as a vehicle for delivering sauce, it was disappointing that the soy dipping sauce was so unimaginative and one dimensional.  It was a basic mix of soy, a little sesame oil and a touch of vinegar, nothing astounding.  The black vinegar with slivered ginger that came with the soup dumplings was thick and intense and as usual was more than I could take.

The Location:  Shanghai Heping Restaurant is Manhattan’s Chinatown on Mott Street Between Canal Street and Hester Street. This is part of Chinatown that over the past decade has expanded into, and largely displaced, Little Italy.  The restaurant is on the East side of the street, mid-block and has a huge blue awning with big neon yellow Chinese characters above the awning.

Posted in Buns, Chinese, New York City, Pork, Sichuan Dumplings, Soup Dumpling, Wontons | Leave a comment