Fifth Anniversary of Dumpling Hunter

Sheng Jian Bao

This, the 300th post at Dumpling Hunter, marks the 5th anniversary of the launch of this blog!  In this time the blog has accrued 69,351 page views from 42,441 visitors, with vegetarian and vegan being the most viewed topics.  The United States is home to the largest number of readers, bu the blog is big in South Korea and Singapore.

Highlights from the past year are:

Best Dumpling in the past year was the Lamb and Pickled vegetable dumpling at Dumpling Galaxy, and if you don’t like that dish they have 99 other styles of dumpling.

Best Vegan Dumpling was the limited edition wastED veggie dumpling at Mimi Cheng’s which were filled with ingredients that typically get composted during the prep process for Mimi Cheng’s other dumplings.  Brilliant idea and super tasty.

Biggest Disappointment was Drunken Dumpling which got a lot of love from the NY Times and foodie pages for its giant soup dumpling, but when I went there the flavors were bland and the pork buns were under cooked.

Dim Sum of the Year is awarded to Yank Sing in San Francisco, make sure you get the shrimp Har Gow.

Best Steamed Bao goes to Trans World Market in Hadley MA.  Get these giant pork, Chinese sausage and egg filled bao while you can, the word is that the lady who makes the Bao is retiring from the Bao-making game.

Best New Comer is awarded to Coffee Break is a french pastry/coffee shop that suddenly decided to add Shanghainese dishes to the menu.  Their Sheng Jian Bao just keep getting better and  better.

Biggest Surprise was Mi Lah’s vegan Vietnamese at Philadelphia’s Amtrak station, their BBQ-Seitan “Pork” Bao was really good.

Best Frozen Dumpling in the past year was Assi Brand Host Cooked vegetable Dumpling which are vegan.

Welcome Back! In December 2016 Yakitori Sun Chan re-opened after being knocked out of commission for six months by a ConEd gas mains problems.

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Rising Moon, Organic White Bean and Kale Ravioli

Rating:  

I was originally looking for vegan ravioli in my local food co-op and these caught eye.  It turns out that they are not vegan but they sounded really good and I was thus detoured from my original mission.  Rising Moon has been offering pastas that are certified organic and Non-GMO, with some vegan and gluten free options for over 20 years.  The company began with a ravioli subscription service, delivered by bicycle, and then expanded to include foccaccia breads and sauces.

White Bean and Kale ravioli with home made sauce.

While the labeling focuses on the white beans and kale, these ravioli also contain garlic, breadcrumbs, spices and four kinds of cheese; white cheddar, ricotta, romano and asiago.  Despite all this cheese the filling has a rich creamy texture from the white beans and they do not eat like a cheese ravioli. But the flavor of the cheese, particularly the romano and asiago, is there and balance out the cruciferous notes of the kale.  I really enjoyed these ravioli and at 12 pieces per pack this is a filling, tasty and quick dinner option.

Rising Moon’s vegan options are: Garlic Roasted Veggie Ravioli, Butternut Squash Ravioli, Classic Potato Gnocchi, and the Spinach Florentine Ravioli.

Posted in Frozen Dumpling Review, Ravioli, Vegan, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Bao Battle: Western MA Edition

Bao Battle: Western MA edition compares bao from Banh Mi Spot and Tran’s World Market, two places I have written about before (Banh Mi Spot: here, here, here and Tran’s: here).

Banh Mi Spot began as Banh Mi Saigon, a tiny store front in a strip mall, and made a name for itself selling amazing banh mi sandwiches and Pho.  The original location tragically burned down in a huge fire that wiped out the entire strip mall.  The family that owned it re-grouped and opened up a larger restaurant in Northampton, but I don’t think they really recaptured the mojo that made the original spot great.  Since re-opening a couple of years ago, they have had several menu re-vamps and a name change.  I like their summer rolls a lot and they have a good pork banh mi.  They recently started serving home made pork bao.

Tran’s World Market’s Pork Bao

Tran’s World Food Market is a pan-Asian and South American grocery store that recently started selling home made pork bao.  The matriarch of the family that owns the store makes the bao each morning before the store opens and they sell out before lunch time.  Some regulars come in once a week and buy a dozen.  Tran’s is a grocery store and so there is no place to sit and eat the bao, it is strictly bao to-go.

The filling of the Pork Bao from Tran’s World Market.

Both places make large fist sized bao with Banh Mi Spot’s being more classically shaped than those from Tran’s which, shall we say, are more rustically formed.  Banh Mi Spot’s bao are filled with a soft boiled quail egg, ground pork, a piece of sausage, jicama, mushroom and carrots.  Similarly, Tran’s bao are filled with half of a hard boiled egg, seasoned ground pork, a piece of Chinese sausage, Shiitaki mushrooms, onion, shallot, garlic, jicama and cabbage.

Banh Mi Spot’s Pork Bao

The bao from Tran’s are the hands down winner here, the bun is slightly fluffy and sweet, and the Chinese sausage brings sweet, savory and spicy flavors. There are lots of vegetables mixed into the well seasoned pork which gives the filling a slight crunch texture.  Tran’s bao are delicious.

Banh Mi Spot’s bao have a lot less flavor and the sausage tastes like a regular American pork sausage.  The soft boiled quail egg was a nice feature because once I bit into the egg, the yoke spilled out and added flavor to the filling.  My biggest issue with the bao I got at Banh Mi Spot was that either the pork or the sausage was of low quality, twice I got a piece of gristle that I had to spit out.

Bao Battle Winner:  Tran’s World Market.

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Sangkee Noodle House, Philadelphia, PA

I was really pleasantly surprised by the Sangkee Noodle House in the lobby of the Sheraton University City Hotel.  I had to be in Philly for work and I got into the hotel late on a miserable rainy night and so had limited dinner options.  From the check-in desk the restaurant looks very PF Chang-esque, but it has a legit pedigree.  Sangkee Noodle House is part of the SangKee Restaurant Group family, which includes the beloved Philly Chinatown stalwart, the Sangkee Peking Duck House.  While I was waiting for my soup dumpling order the waiter brought me an amazing sweet, sour and spicy cabbage salad appetizer that included two types of chili peppers.

I went back for breakfast the next day. SangKee sells a combination of Chinese dishes and American breakfast essentials.  Almost all the Chinese breakfast options included chicken, which I don’t eat, so I went with the egg white omelet, which turned out to be the worst omelet I think I have ever had.  Stick to the Chinese dishes at Sangkee.

Sweet/Sour/Spicy cabbage salad.

The Dumplings:  Sangkee Noodle House serves Steamed Watercress Dumplings filled with pork, shrimp, and watercress, Steamed or Pan Fried Dumplings filled with either chicken, meat or vegetarian, Fried Wontons, Fried or Steamed Shrimp Dumplings, and Steamed Sui Mai.

Soup Dumplings

The soup dumplings come eight to an order but are on the small size.  They were expertly cooked with the soup blazing hot but the wrappers were still intact on each of the dumplings.  The soup was straw colored and relatively free of fat globules but had an intense concentrated pork broth flavor that I really enjoyed.  The pork meatball itself was fairly mildly flavored and finely minced so it had a smooth mouth feel.

This was one of the best meals I have had at a business class hotel restaurant.  Breakfast at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul has to have been the best, but this was top three.

Location:  The Sheraton University City Hotel is in the University District of Philadelphia, home to Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.  It is at 3549 Chestnut Street at 36th Street.

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Mi Lah, 30 Street Station, Philadelphia, PA

Airports and train stations in the U.S. are usually a wasteland for finding vegetarian food, let alone vegan food.  It is so bad that the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine rates an airport restaurant as “healthy” if it has a single vegetarian item on the menu.  No wonder frequent travel is associated with poor health and obesity (here & here).

Vegan Char Sui Bao

Mi Lah at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station is an oasis in this travel desert, it sells vegan Asian food with a focus on Vietnamese dishes.  I tried the Cha Sui Bao which are BBQ-Seitan “Pork” buns.  They also sell Spicy Dumplings which are filled with mushroom, cilantro, soy protein and bok choy and are served in a chili sauce and Soup Dumplings which are not Chinese style Xiao Long Bao, but are the dumplings from the Spicy Dumplings served in a clear broth.

BBQ-“Pork”

I think the Asian fake meat companies have cracked the code for making fake pork, especially Char Sui pork.  The filling in this bun was totally convincing in taste and texture and they use a really nice sweet Chinese BBQ sauce.  The bun could have used a bigger ratio of filling to bready bun; you can see in the photo there is a lot of bread at the top of the bun.  But hey, I was able to get a vegan snack on Amtrak!

There is a full sit down Mi Lah in Philadelphia at 615 South 3rd Street which does Tapas style small plates and their original restaurant is in Ambler PA.  At the Amtrak station , you can find Mi Lah in the food court.

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Ocean City Restaurant, Philadelphia, PA

Shrimp Shumai

Dim sum after a night of drinking too much and dancing at a Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ show has become a tradition.  This summer I hit the show in Philadelphia and luckily Philly has a Chinatown.  It is centered around Vine and Arch streets downtown and has been around since the 1870’s.  We picked Ocean City Restaurant solely based on the fact that it opens at 10 am, early enough that we could eat and make our flights home.  Ocean City Restaurant is an old school dim sum palace, with big round tables and carts that are pushed around the restaurant that you choose small plates and steamer baskets from.

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings and Pork and Shrimp Shumai

The Dumplings:  We got to the restaurant just as it opened and we were the only diners there for most of our breakfast.  It was pretty clear the kitchen was not yet going full force and there were only three carts prowling around the restaurant floor.  The steamed Shrimp Har Gow were on the first cart that came by and we grabbed them.  The shrimp were really sweet and tasted fresh but the rice flower wrappers around the dumplings were floppy and did not hold the shrimp together in a bundle very well.

The other two dumpling options available that early in service were the Shrimp Shumai and the Pork and Shrimp Shumai.  The Shumai at Ocean City are quite big, two to three bites each and the Shrimp ones were the better of the two.  Once again the shrimp were fresh and really sweet and because they were coarsely chopped they had a good crunch/pop when I bit into them.  The Pork and Shrimp ones were tasty but had glued together in the steamer so it was tough to pry them out in one piece.  Basically I had to deconstruct them to get them onto my plate.

The Location:  Ocean City Restaurant is on North 9th Street between Race  and Vine streets, at the edge of Chinatown.  It is a pretty desolate location, across from a parking lot and a stones throw from Highway 676.

Posted in Dim Sum, How Gar, Philadelphia, Pork, Shrimp, Shumai | Leave a comment

Telegraph Street Area, Berkeley, CA

Telegraph Street is the main commercial strip abutting the UC Berkeley campus with lots of Korean, Japanese, Chinese and fusion joints catering to UC Berkeley’s students.  I expected that this would be a good restaurant row to spend an afternoon eating dumplings but I was a little bit disappointed.

Despite its name, everyone at Famous Bao was eating bubbling cauldron hot-pot dishes, not a single diner had a steamer of buns in front of them.  The menu only lists two types of bao; Juicy Pork and Cabbage Bao and Pork and Mushroom Shrimp Bao, and the day I was there they only had the Pork and Cabbage variety.  They also have a selection of Xi’an hand pulled noodle dishes and chopped seasoned lamb or pork “burger” sandwiches that are becoming popular in New York City.

The Bao come eight to an order and are really big, to the point where the steamers they use are not large enough to hold all eight in one layer, so the bao are cooked piled up in the steamer.  The bao lacked the promised juice but were really tasty.  The bun bread was slightly sweet and the pork was well seasoned and savory.  The cabbage actually also contributed to the filling, I could taste the slightly cruciferous flavor and it was roughly chopped so that it added texture and crunch to the filling.  I guess the hot-pot dishes must be really something special to have drawn the rest of the diners away from what were really good bao.

House ware for sale at Dumpling Express

Dumpling Express sounds like it belongs in an outdated airport food court, but has some really interesting things going on.  The place is small and has a narrow counter that can seat about 8-10 people, and has weirdly devoted precious space to stocking and selling plates, bowls, tea cups, chop-sticks and soup spoons.  Behind the counter there was a woman hand rolling dough and stuffing and pleating dumplings lightening fast. Orders were flying out of the kitchen to a continuously refreshing pool of people milling around in the entryway hoping that their order number would be called just as room opened up at the counter.  But it seems that if you are lucky enough to get a seat at the counter its OK to linger and check Facebook on your phone, no one vacated their precious counter spot while I was there.

Over cooked pork dumplings.

Dumpling Express has a large selection of dumplings, most of which come 12 to an order and since I hadn’t yet walked off the bao and was pretty full, I chose the fried pork dumplings which are 6 to an order.  This was a big mistake, as the order I got were over deep-fried into crunchy nuggets of flavorless-ness, even with sauce I could only bring myself to eat two of them.  Everyone else was slurpy down plates of boiled or steamed dumplings that looked really good.  The choices are:  Shanghai Soup Dumplings with Pork or Pork and Crab; Pork or Chicken Dumplings with Napa Cabbage; Fried Pork or Chicken Dumplings; Pork Dumplings with Kim Chi “Spicy”; Chicken Dumplings with Corn; Beef Dumplings with Celery; Lamb Dumplings with Vegetables; and Shrimp Dumplings with Chives.  I chose badly, don’t make the same mistake I did.

Off of Durant Street there is partially covered alley/cul de sac food court that among others, is home to  small Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and Chinese restaurants.  Each has seating for maybe 10 or 12 people, with additional picnic style tables in the alley.  I was still feeling the bao when I found this nook of restaurants and couldn’t bring myself to order any more dumplings.  Next time I am in town I will definitely try the steamed dim sum dumplings at Mandarin House, its the Chinese restaurant that has made the design choice of using 8 1/2 by 11 photos of the food to cover every inch of the exterior and interior.

Also on Durant there is a Korean restaurant and a Chinese restaurant on the second floor, above the Korean place.  While every other place I saw was packed with Asian students, both of these restaurants were empty and looked sketchy.

To summarize: 1) do not get loaded down with bao at Famous Bao, pace yourself and take leftovers home or bring a friend or two to share an order, 2) do not order the fried dumplings at Dumpling Express, get the boiled ones, they are what everyone else is eating there; and 3) check out the Chinese restaurant in the alleyway off Durant.

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Ginto, San Francisco, CA

One of Gintos giant kabuki mask wall hangings

Ginto is advertised as an izakaya and sushi bar and is part of the Tokyo based Rama restaurant group that runs over 150 restaurants mainly in Asia.  Izakaya are usually small casual pubs, but Ginta has taken the concept of an izakaya menu and applied it to a cavernous 200+ seat upscale restaurant.

The interior of Ginta is moodily lit and decorated with large abstract wire bird cage like structures hanging from the ceiling and three giant kabuki style masks above the open kitchen.  We got there pretty early for dinner and the service started out fine, but the two waitresses were quickly overwhelmed as the place filled up.  Settling up and paying our check took an eternity.

Their tonkatsu ramen has an excellent broth but seemed like it had 50% more noodles than it needed, rather than being a soup with noodles, it was more like a bowl of very wet noodles.  However their Ohitashi, blanched cold spinach with dashi-shoyu broth, was exceptional.  While I had some good food there, I found the place pretty sterile and corporate, I prefer my izakaya to be more like a neighborhood pub.

Lightly dressed Takoyaki

The Dumplings:  Ginto only has one dumpling option, the Takoyaki.  They must have been running their tako-pan super hot because the outside of the takoyaki were really crispy and almost burnt colored, while the batter inside the outer shell was smooth and richly creamy. The dish comes minimally dressed, with just drizzles of Worcester sauce and Japanese mayo.  I prefer my takoyaki to be served with the full monty of drizzles of sauce and mayo, a thick carpeting of bonito flakes and a sprinkle of nori dust.   But while this was a minimalist approach to takoyaki, I did enjoy it.

The Location:  Ginto is on Market Street, near where Geary and Kearny hit Market, in San Francisco’s financial district.

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Yank Sing, San Francisco, CA

Steamed shrimp dumplings

BBQ Pork buns.

Yank Sing is open every day of the week and is one of the top rated dim sum houses in San Francisco.  It was originally opened in Chinatown by the current owner’s grandparent in 1958.  In 2001 it moved to the Embarcadero and then shortly thereafter a sister location was opened in SoMa. We got to the SoMa location 20 minutes before they opened and were first in a line that grew to 30 people deep by the time the restaurant doors swung open at 10am.  The wait time allowed us to strategize over which table we wanted; to get the best circulation of carts, avoid the periphery of the restaurant and try and get a table in the middle of the restaurant near the kitchen entrance.  This gives you access to the most carts, with the freshest steamer baskets and plates from the kitchen.  One critique of Yank Sing’s is that it is a little more expensive than typical dim sum, but one way to hold your costs down is to avoid the non-traditional dishes like honey baked sea bass at $24 a serving or the curried cream cheese shrimp wontons at over 10 bucks an order.

The Dumplings:  Everything we tried at Yank Sing was great to excellent, with the shrimp Har Gow being the standout.  The chunks of shrimp in the Har Gow were absolutely fresh and sweet and were firm and popped as I bit into them.  The rice flour wrapper was slightly chewing without being gummy.  In some dim sum houses the wrappers can be loose or slack and the shrimp fall out of the dumpling as you bite into them.  At Yank Sing’s they are practically shrink wrapped around the filling so the dumpling held together perfectly.

Pork soup dumplings

The BBQ pork buns were also excellent, the bun bread was light and super fluffy with a slight sweet flavor and they were packed with tender pieces of red BBQ Pork.  Like an overfilled strawberry jam donut, these buns were pretty messy to eat, each bite squished BBQ sauce out of the side of the bun.  Normally I avoid pork buns at dim sum because I find then too filling, but these were on the smaller side, came only two per order and turned out to be so light they didn’t have a major impact on my appetite.

The Xiao Long Bao were the least successful of the dishes.  Yang Sing serves then from the carts that roam the restaurant floor and I was afraid that by the time the cart got to us the buns would be cooling and getting rubbery.  Perhaps to address this problem the dumplings were over cooked, so they were still blazing hot when we got them, but several of the wrappers had ruptured in the steamer and leaked soup.  The dumplings were quite tasty, and while the soup was a little thin in texture, it packed flavor.

Pork pot stickers.

The pot stickers were the last plate of food we got and by then I was pretty stuffed (we ate non-dumpling dishes too), but I powered through. The pork and leak filled dumpling were expertly prepared – the thin wrappers were fried crispy golden on the bottom and steamed through on the top.  The pork filling was tightly packed into the wrappers and was savory and juicy.  This was another dish that I thought might suffer from sitting on the cart as the servers roamed the room.  But the kitchen had food runners periodically bringing plates of fresh pot stickers to the carts so everyone got fresh crispy dumplings.

The Dipping Sauce:  Each table has a tub of ground red chili in oil, a bottle of soy sauce and a jar of Chinese mustard.  You can make yourself some pretty spicy and sinus clearing dipping sauces with these ingredients.

The Location:  We hit the location in SoMa on Stevenson Street near 1st street.  This is an almost deserted, non-disrupt street parallel to Market Street.

Posted in Buns, Chinese, Dim Sum, Pan Fried, Potsticker, San Francisco, Shrimp, Soup Dumpling, Steamed, Xiao Long Bao | Leave a comment

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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