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Dollars for Dumplings

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in the USA

Winter Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(4) page(s): 18 and 27

To say that dumpling eateries are ‘in’ is an understatement. In many a Chinatown across the United States these places are growing in numbers. They have been ‘in’ and popular in China for years. Savvy locals and smart out-of-town folk in Chinatown’s across the country are devouring them, mostly at the new, newer, and newest places. People in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the mixed Asian community of Flushing flock to indulge. They are doing so well on the west coast, on the east coast, and in middle America. Why not? The very newest places are joining some of the older spots; namy are all selling five dumplings for a dollar. Your glasses are fine, they really are available from five to ten for a buck, depending upon their interiors.

At the five or more for one price, most are in low rent locations, There are places more upscale, there they are two for four bits or more. The fancier the digs, the loftier the prices as more bucks help pay higher rent. Simple or fancy, every Chinese eatery we ever visited does sell dumplings to eat in or to take out. Those lower on the economic and ambiance scale have fewer stools, hardly a chair, and maybe a table or two, but more usually only a counter. They do more take-out business. Their richer cousins with furniture and usually a bigger menu, are also raking in dollars from their dumplings. Lest we forget, some places have no seating; they specialize in selling them frozen, and you do the steaming, boiling, and/or pan frying. Believe it or not, lots of the frozen product places in a Chinatown make a better product than the large manufacturers who sell to Asian and western supermarkets. Why, because they keep them better and for shorter times, and they have fewer changes in holding temperatures.

MY DAN TIN at 135-02 #6 Prince Street in Queen's Flushing; phone: (718) 358-4563 is a wonderful take-out you-make-them-at-home dumpling place. Do note that their name is only in Chinese on their awning, also their telephone number; and another note, they are closed on Tuesdays.

Here, dumplings are bagged and frozen, fifty of one kind, to an ordinary thin plastic bag. They cost up to ten bucks for that half-hundred, all made by hand. The ten different kinds we tasted thus far are as good as freshly made ones. If we had to list a preference, the plain pork or the ones with sea cucumber top our list. We like to watch the old gent in the back next to the huge steamer. He is so talented, we stand in awe. He, family members, and employees are a symphony in action. When we take ours home, we do pop their bag into another, one made for freezing; and we advise that you do the same no matter where you buy yours.

TASTY DUMPLINGS at 54 Mulberry Street; phone: (212) 349-0070 with close to a dozen tables and a low counter with regular chairs is a place to eat dumplings and street watch. For places with a stool or two or even a few tables, this in one of the handful in and near Manhattan’s Chinatown. Expect to be joined by others at any of the counters or tables, particularly at lunch time, as we have been. The above dumpling place is a couple of blocks from Manhattan’s main courts and police headquarters. Recently, we note that non-Chinese workers in this area are joining their steady stream of Chinese patrons. If you take a seat, be prepared to move over to make room for others. Everyone is very friendly. One day we met a Chinese chap who queried our presence and how we heard of the place. We queried him in return and asked if he knew of this magazine. He was so friendly that a few days later he sent in a check; he is now a subscriber.

When you go, need to or not, make a trip to the unisex bathroom in the rear. Go slowly and watch food preparation in action. Workers here are symphony conductors in their own way making arms flail as they prepare many kinds of dumplings and dim sum. No conversation seems to make music, perhaps because they are so busy. If it did, you need to understand a local Chinese dialect, no Cantonese or Mandarin here; mostly Fujianese. Ordering, done at a front counter requires language skills too, or finger pointing to the English words. Look at the menu on the counter carefully; they white out items sold out.

DUMPLING HOUSE at 118A Eldridge Street; phone: (212) 625-8008 is an upscale sibling; a bit uptown, too. Both places make a limited number of a few of their offerings, the goal is to sell out and make everything fresh the next morning, so be an early bird. Getting there early is a great idea if you want specific food items. Not a real concern for most local customers.

Every one of the fourteen different dumplings at Tasty Dumpling are great. We need three trips to taste them all. Only had a third of the offerings at Dumpling House, they are wonderful, too. At the newer place our second visit was to be a tour de force. However, we were ready to explode after tasting half of the fourteen kinds we order. We give the leftovers to a pair of homeless ladies a few blocks away. When we turn to look at them from half a block away, the smiles on their faces are a rewarding experience.

If dumplings steamed or fried or made pot-sticker style is not what you want, worry not. For example, at Tasty Dumpling, there is one less than sixty different selections including the fourteen dumplings. You might want to try their Shanghai-style bread called 'Pancake.' It is available plain or filled with beef, pork, or lotus root slices. Two different sticky rice items are available as are two egg dishes, also called ‘Pancake.’ Among the others, there are a dozen and one different soups and ten cold dishes. The Beef Strips with Spicy Sauce are a favorite cold food one day, the Aromatic Sliced Beef wins our hearts another.

We fall in love with this dollar dipper on our first visit. The star-anise-flavored Pig’s Skin Jelly wins us over. Have not tasted them since, except in the mind, as we live fifty miles away. When next in the Big Apple, and we are working on that, plan to bring a cooler and stock our own larder.

In addition to the nearly five dozen food selections, there are ten cold or hot drinks, some available both ways. All the dim sum and dumpling items range from half a buck for the Golden Pancake to three dollars for Dumpling in Soup. Cold dishes go for one to four dollars, nothing is more than $4.95, and most items are under two dollars.

One friend e-mailed a suggestion saying, “When you go be sure to try the Cucumber and Egg Pancake, I could eat twelve of them.” We did and will probably stop by for breakfast many days to come. We accept his challenge and eat it with chopsticks, no mean feat.

A-D-A FUKIEN RESTAURANT at 135-23 40th Road; phone: (718) 888-9551 is in Queens; and it also features dumplings. Other places have them on their menu, and a few have them. In Queen’s multi-ethic area called Flushing, you often need to know to look or ask for them. At thei Fujianese place, there are three super Fujiianese-style wok-baked dumplings, a couple topped with sesame seeds. They sit neatly on a tray at the rear of the room. Pointing will get you any one or all; we share these delicious Fujian one dollar delights because one feeds two or more easily, if ordering other foods. We are partial to one filled with red-rice-wine-lees-flavored pork. A friend prefers the one filled with chives, and yet another said she adores the ground pork and vegetable ones. Guess all are winners even though all a mite piquant, probably made so with a combination of hot mustard and a pepper sauce.

Where ever you live, seek out a dumpling emporium or dumplings at a restaurant or a take-out place. For those who live too far from one, take time to make your own. We offer a make-it-yourself suggestion below and many more elsewhere; so do check out the index listings. The one below is a Hubei treat. Enjoy these wonderful snack foods that many of us do eat too many of.
Hubei Lotus Sandwich
1/2 pound ground pork
1 scallion, finely minced
1 Tablespoon rice wine
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large or two smaller sections of lotus root, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup each cornstarch and waterchestnut flour, mixed
2 cups corn oil
1. Mix pork, scallion, rice wine, soy sauce and cornstarch.
2. Cut lotus root into thin slices, about six to the inch. Bring three cups of water to the boil, add the salt and blanch them for one minute, then drain and set them in a single layer on paper towels.
3. Dust one side of each slice of lotus with the cornstarch/waterchestnut flour mixture. Then spread the pork mixture evenly on half of the slices and top with the other slices of the lotus, dusted side towards the meat mixture.
4. Make a batter of the remaining flour mixture with three to four tablespoons of water, it should be thick, but beaten well so it is not lumpy.
5. Heat oil, dip a lotus root sandwich in the batter and fry until light tan and crispy, then remove and set on a clean paper towel to drain. You can fry three or four sandwiches at a time, whn all are fried, place on a platter and serve.

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