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.

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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.


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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