Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dumpling Hunt Part 3 -- Alternative Dumplings

I appreciate all the suggestions everyone has sent me about dumplings. I am going to have to eat a lot before I finish this series.

Apart from traditional Chinese dumplings, there are a number of interesting alternatives and variations. This is a sampling of three:

Daniel Wong's is a quirky Chinese Restaurant on Bissonnet near Newcastle. Mr. Wong's cooking plays with both American and Chinese cooking styles -- in a way that is not pandering, but creative, playful, and very homemade. For instance, he makes a great seafood gumbo, and wonderful dishes such as Road Kill Pork and Hermann Park Duck.

Wong's steamed vegetable dumplings are more like ravioli than traditional dumplings. He takes a square of pasta, folds it into a flat triangle, and steams it. The pasta is not the best I have had, but the vegetable filling reflects a lot of care and attention. It includes finely chopped carrots, cabbage, greens, and green onions. This filling, unlike so many dumplings, actually has flavor.

Also excellent are Wong's pan fried chicken dumplings. For these pot sticker dumplings, the pasta and the preparation are more traditional. But Wong adds some finely chopped vegetables and green onions to the chicken to give it much more flavor than the ordinary chicken dumpling.

Benjy's -- a hip, modern American restaurant in the Rice Village -- also has dumplings on the menu at the moment. The dumplings themselves are not very interesting. They are fairly traditional pot stickers, limp fried posta with a lump of boiled pork in the middle. But they place the dumplings on a bed of cabbage and cover them with an extremely spicy sauce. The base ingredient is soy, but I also taste a lot of ginger and chili pepper. The sauce is even spicier than the extra spicy sauce at Doozo, and I spend a lot of time after finishing the dumplings just eating the cabbage to get the sauce. Unfortunately, I ordered an excellent A. Rafanelli Zinfandel, and the spicy sauce obliterates my palate for the wine.

Benjy's dumplings are far from ideal, but they suggest the possibilities of what a creative American chef might create when they tackle the Chinese dumpling. I wish they took more care with the pasta and filling to match their killer sauce.

Kubo's -- a hip, modern sushi restaurant in the Rice Village -- has an even better spicy dumpling called "wasabi shumai." Structurally, these are the kind of dumplings that stand up, with an open top, and look like tiny, just-opening flower bud. Although the filling seems like the ordinary lump-of-ground-pork center, the sides are encased with a spicy wasabi pasta. These dumplings explode with flavor in your mouth, even without any sauce.

Although I am not certain, I believe that Kubo's wasabi shunmai are not a traditional Japanese dish, but a creative variation on the Chinese dumpling. Although various Japanese restaurants around the US serve wasabi shumai, the word "shumai" is Chinese, and the construction of the dumpling is similar to some Chinese recipes.

Even after two thousand years, the evolution of the dumpling continues -- and splinters. There are hundreds, if not thousands of variations. Wikipedia's entry on dumplings describes different kind of dumplings in the cuisines of England, the Caribbean, Germany, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Siberia, Ukraine, Himalaya, India, Japan, Korea, Turkey, and the southern U.S.

If I try all of those, I will be writing about dumplings for the next year. So before I go too far afield, I will return in my next post to trying to find the best Chinese dumplings in Houston.


Anonymous said...

Very cool series of posts. Look forward to the next one.

issa said...

All these dumpling posts are really giving me cravings.

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