Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

Posts Tagged ‘dumpling

Face masks and hair nets are synonymous with Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) in Sydney. Cooks are in silent huddles in the open kitchen, kneading dough and pleating dumplings (餃子). The public display of food safety is commendable but I feel awkward staring at the staff.

The signature spectacle is also at Din Tai Fung in Bellevue. Patrons can watch each step of the dumpling making process as each dumpling is rotated through several pairs of hands. Sans face masks and hair nets, brows are knitted in concentration and nimble fingers pinched and pressed.

Located in Lincoln Square, Din Tai Fung has a modern and spacious dining room. You may have to queue for a table during peak times but the maître d’ is excellent at estimating the wait and you can while away the minutes learning the art of dumplings!

Our group of four were seated in a comfortable booth. Each table has a condiments tray with bottles of soy sauce and vinegar, and a jar of chilli sauce.

The laminated menu has photos for reference and you can tick the items on the order sheet. Sweet and sour spareribs (排骨) whetted our appetite. More sweet than sour, these unctuous morsels were coated in a sticky marinade.

Famous for their soup dumplings (小籠包), ten xiao long bao were steamed in a bamboo basket. Dipped in vinegar to balance their richness, the delicate dumplings were savoured for their liquid centres.

Beneath the cloudy broth were prawn and pork wontons (雲吞). A popular meal with noodles in Cantonese cafés (茶餐廳), the silky wrapper encased a meaty filling. It was simple comfort food.

My favourite dish at Din Tai Fung is the spicy prawn and pork dumplings. Boiled wontons were tossed in a luscious sauce, each mouthful pungent and fiery.

Slippery strands of egg noodles were stir-fried with Napa cabbage (黃芽白), spinach and prawns for a toothsome plate of carbs.

Garlicky batons of green beans were bright and crunchy.

Dessert was a mango smoothie with tapioca pearls. An icy, fruity blend, it was a refreshing beverage.

And they have dessert dumplings too!

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I have a fading memory of my uncle making dumplings (餃子). I don’t remember where or when the family gathering was and I don’t recall eating them but there is a faint image of his nimble fingers deftly pleating the wrapper, patiently making dozens for the dinner party. An exchange of emails with my father confirmed my uncle’s dumpling skills.

The lovely Kimberly was my companion at the Handmade Asian Dumplings class at The Pantry at Delancey. I had intended on snacking on a Jersey salad at Delancey prior to the cooking class but had forgotten the restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Instead we perched on the azure stools on the deck at The Pantry and chatted.

Located behind Delancey, The Pantry has a herbs and vegetables garden.

A custom made timber table is the centrepiece. The space is practical and welcoming, a celebration of countryside kitchen and communal dining.

Blushed tulips in a mason jar, bottles of olive oil in a vintage crate and local jams, preserves and jellies (Deluxe Foods) were some of the provisions for sale.

Dumplings mise en place prepared by the volunteers.

A glass of sparkling Rosé was a refreshing apéritif.

We munched on crispy wonton skins and spongy tofu cubes (豆腐泡) as appetisers.

In America via Malaysia and Australia, Kathleen Khoo was our teacher. She was an affable lady with an cheerful persona. On the menu were ‘water dumplings’ (水餃), Japanese gyoza, deep fried wonton (炸雲吞) and siu mai (燒賣).

Kathleen demonstrated how to make a basic dough and an egg dough. ‘Just like pasta’, a dumpling dough is formed with flour, water, egg and a pinch of salt. Once combined, the dough was kneaded quickly and firmly until silky and pliable. The dough was then rested before flattening into wrappers.

We paired up to make a basic dough and an egg dough.

Kathleen explained some of the Asian ingredients such as shredding only the green parts of the Napa cabbage as the whites have a high water content.

A tray of condiments included hoisin sauce (海鮮醬), mirin, sake, sweet chilli sauce, sesame oil (芝麻油) and Shaoxing wine (紹興酒). A splash is enough as the condiments are pungent.

As our dough rested, we emptied the various containers of the mise en place and stirred the components together for each of the fillings.

You can buy packets of dumpling wrappers from Asian grocery stores and supermarkets but it is easy, economical and healthier to make fresh ones.

Water dumpling wrappers can be made in a tortilla press. We learnt to do it by hand with a narrow rolling pin. The egg dough was rolled in a pasta machine.

Being organised is essential to successful dumplings. The surface should be lightly floured, spoons or chopsticks to portion out the fillings, corn starch for dusting the wrappers, a basin of water to seal the dumplings, and cotton tea towels to cover the wrappers and dumplings to prevent them from drying out. The rested dough was rolled into a sausage shape and cut into inch wide lumps.

A vibrant green, sprigs of coriander were roughly chopped as garnish.

Sauces in earthy shades were poured.

My first handmade dumpling!

The water dumplings were crescent parcels of minced pork, shredded Napa cabbage, aromatics and seasoning. They were boiled, tossed in a store bought spicy dumpling sauce and adorned with coriander. Thick and doughy, the slippery dumplings were meaty.

The crimped edges of the Japanese gyoza were fun to make. These sturdy morsels of minced pork and prawn chunks were seared in a non-stick pan and steamed in stock. Golden bottomed and translucent, the juicy and robust gyoza was my favourite.

Wontons were folded into nurse’s caps, deep fried and served with sweet chilli dipping sauce. I prefer wontons boiled in a broth ladled over noodles.

Siu mai, an open dumpling that is a staple dim sum (點心) at yum cha (飲茶), were a dexterous challenge. Traditionally made with twelve pleats, I maxed out at seven! The siu mai were plump bites laced with the distinct flavours of shiitake mushrooms.

Bunches of Chinese cabbage were quartered and steamed as a side. The first bamboo basket was too wilted but the second was just cooked, the stalks crunchy and the leaves tender.

Dumpling making is the perfect rainy weekend activity!

Listed alphabetically by state, Joe’s Shanghai (鹿鳴春) was in the New York section of CNN’s ‘50 best Chinese restaurants in the United States‘. In the same block as Momofuku Má Pêche and Momofuku Milk Bar in Midtown, Joe’s Shanghai is a double storey ‘centre of exotic specialties’.

I signalled a table for one and was ushered upstairs. Bronze deer and potted bamboos decorated the bay window. A tiered sparkling gold and crystal chandelier was suspended above the vestibule.

A curious specials menu included New Zealand mussels, T-bone steak and rack of lamb.

A mound of cold egg noodles was drizzled with sesame dressing, topped with julienned cucumber and served in a scallop shell shaped dish. I slurped the cold sesame noodles (芝麻冷麵), a simple but appetizing celebration of Chinese carbs.

The traditional trio of ginger slivers, soy sauce and vinegar were stirred in a bowl for dipping.

Joe’s Shanghai is famous for their soup dumplings. Six crab and pork xiao long bao (蟹粉小籠包) were on a bed of shredded Napa cabbage (黃芽白) in a steaming bamboo basket. The delicate morsels were juicy and meaty, although the skin was a little doughy.

Noodles and dumplings were requisite sustenance for shopping in Manhattan!

I have lamented the lack of authentic Chinese food in Seattle. I was pleased with Chiang’s and love the consistency of Din Tai Fung but I really miss yum cha (飲茶), the traditional Cantonese lunch of dim sum (點心). I was adamant that Seattleites have to travel north to Richmond in Vancouver for variety and quality until Shirley introduced me to Jade Garden (翠苑酒家).

Regal in red, a festive cartoon dragon (龍年) denoted the Lunar New Year (農曆新年).

A school size chalkboard listed the daily specials in calligraphy (English) and scrawl (Chinese).

As with many Chinese restaurants, the interior is austere. Drab walls, plain tables, sturdy chairs, chipped china and Lazy Susans are the standard! Jade Garden is a labyrinth of dining rooms. When I was directed to our table at the back I thought I had to walk through the kitchen!

A card was stamped to record orders from the carts.

The condiments (醬油) tray consisted of salt and pepper shakers, soy and vinegar bottles, and a mysterious stainless steel container.

Shirley explained that it’s the homemade chilli sauce (辣椒醬) which was a well blended paste.

Stacked high with steaming bamboo baskets, ladies (and it’s always ladies) wheeled carts to hawk their dumplings. First were pork and prawn dumplings (燒賣). Minced pork, prawn and shiitake mushroom (冬菇) are lumped in a thin wrapper and dotted with roe. These were a tender version of the meaty morsels.

The other classic was prawn dumplings (蝦餃). Translucent and pleated, the starchy wrapper encased chunks of succulent prawns. The skin was a little thick and I doused these in the homemade chilli sauce.

These beige blobs were deceptive in appearance. We happily slurped the fragrant broth of the soup dumplings (小籠包).

Tinged with green, the prawn and chive dumplings are a variation of prawn dumplings.

Similarly, the prawn and crab dumplings had mounds of shredded crab on top of the wrappers.

Fried food was next. These awkward objects were taro dumplings (芋角). The puffed taro outer shell was crispy, crumbling at each bite, contrasting with the porky texture inside.

Golden and football shaped, these mochi like dumplings (鹹水角) had a glutinous, sticky coating. Its sweetness contrasted with the salty filling.

The final savoury selection was stir-fried noodles (炒麵). Curly thin noodles were tossed with bean sprouts and chives, a homely vegetarian dish.

Rolled in sesame seeds, these mochi balls with lotus seed paste (蓮蓉煎堆) were nutty and chewy.

And finally my favourite Chinese dessert, custard tarts (蛋撻). Traditionally baked in a flaky crust with an intense, creamy set custard, these are best savoured fresh from the oven.

The more the merrier for yum cha!

The final restaurant on the December Dimsumcouver (點心哥華) schedule was Sha Lin Noodle House (少林麵莊).

A brightly lit room was full of diners. In the back corner was a window into the kitchen where a chef kneaded dough, and stretched, cut and shaved noodles with much concentration and solemnity.

We ordered two dishes to share. First was pork pan fried dumplings (猪肉水煎包). Huddled together with golden crisp bottoms, these dense morsels were juicy, meaty and well seasoned. A dozen of these were too much for the four of us at the end of a day of eating and we were happy to pack the remainder in a container to savour the next day.

The second plate was hand shaved noodles with lamb flavoured with cumin (孜然口味炒羊肉手拉面). This was symphony on a plate. It was stir-fried with wok breath (鑊氣), the handmade noodles tangled with a mass of bean sprouts, studded with broccoli florets and strips of tender lamb were pungent with cumin. It was hearty comfort food.

It was an excellent introduction to Dim-sum-couver. Sincere thanks to Cameo, Naomi and Rachel for the frivolous company!

Dimsumcouver (點心哥華) continued onto Peaceful (和平飯店) in Yaletown. The smiling chef attached to the sign was a contrast to Peace Hotel, a violent Spaghetti Western film starring Chow Yun Fat (周潤發) of the same Chinese name as Peaceful Restaurant.

On a thoroughfare Peaceful was busy mid-afternoon. We were seated at the front window booth and pleased to connect to the free Wi-Fi as we sipped tea.

We ordered three items to share. Our enthusiastic waitress delivered each dish with flair. The first was xiao long bao (小籠包) or ‘soup dumplings’. A generous serving of eight, these had a thinner wrapping and lighter broth than the ones at No. 1 Shanghai Cuisine.

Sticky with hoisin sauce, four large portions of beef rolls were slices of five spice (五香粉) beef and green onions rolled in crispy flat bread.

The highlight at Peaceful was a bowl of blade sheared noodles (刀削麵). A thick tangle of handmade noodles was garnished with diced garlic, green onions and sizzling chilli oil. Steamed Chinese cabbage (白菜) tempered the heat. Each slippery noodle was swirled in the pungent sauce and slurped with glee.

As we waxed poetic about the blade sheared noodles, we noticed a Guy Fieri graffiti on the wall at the entrance.

I would drive to Vancouver just for another bowl of blade sheared noodles at Peaceful!

Yum cha (飲茶) is a symbolic meal for me. In Cantonese the literal translation is ‘drink tea’. Families and friends gather at round tables for a casual lunch, sharing pots of tea, and selecting bamboo steamers and plates of dim sum (點心) from carts. An old couple read the newspaper in silence. Children eat barbecue pork buns (叉燒包) with their hands. Extended families spin the Lazy Susan laden with dishes. It is a tradition cherished in Chinese culture.

First on our Dim-sum-couver schedule was Vivacity (名都). Located in Richmond, a neighbourhood of Vancouver with the highest immigrant population in Canada and the majority is of Chinese heritage.

We were seated in a separate room where we were the only patrons. The menu doubled as a ordering form as Vivacity did not have carts. There were more than a hundred items on the menu! After some deliberation we marked our morning tea with a pencil.

First was deep fried pork dumplings (鹹水角). Golden and oval shaped, the slightly sweet and mochi like dumpling encased a savoury pork and vegetables filling.

Steamed rice rolls with Chinese doughnuts (炸兩) topped with pork floss (肉鬆) were a textural contrast. Light and crunchy Chinese doughnut (油炸鬼) were wrapped in slippery noodles and served with soy sauce, peanut sauce and hoisin sauce.

Pan fried radish cakes (蘿蔔糕) are one of my favourite dim sum comfort food. Squares of shredded radish were studded with Chinese sausage (臘腸), glutinous morsels with a seared edge.

Three globes of steamed beef balls (牛肉球) were on a curious mix of corn kernels and peas. The usual garnish of tofu skins was absent. Scissored in half, the tenderised meat was dipped in tangy Worcestershire sauce (喼汁) to accentuate the beef flavour.

Fried crispy milk custards (炸脆奶) were nuggets of delight. The batter crumbled with each bite and melded into the silky custard.

Last was steamed buns with egg custard (流沙包). Deceptively plain in appearance, the bland dough was the vessel for creamy saffron coloured custard.

I can count how many times I’ve been to yum cha this year and I’ve really missed it.


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