Sunday, May 04, 2008
THE Pan-Fried Dumpling
One side is crisp, toasty, crunchy. The other two sides are thick, soft, moist, chewy. The filling is meaty and satisfying.
Eating pan fried pork and leek dumplings from Sandong Noodle is a tactile experience. Yes, you can taste the fresh ground pork and leeks. And the flavor improves when you dip it in rice vinegar and chili paste. But the joy of these dumplings is all texture.
Background and Debate
Sandong Noodle House is located at 9938 Bellaire, in the new Chinatown. It moved a few years ago. The name seems to have been spelled different ways -- Santong Snacks and San Dong. Most of the customers seem to be Chinese speakers, so I expect the spelling changes reflect an effort to get non-Chinese speakers to pronounce the name correctly.
Sandong's pan fried dumplings cost under $5 (cash only) for a plate of 10 or so. They are widely praised, but also the source of debate. On b4-u-eat, Houston's ethnic food guru, Jay Francis, proclaimed that Sandong:
"is undoubtedly one of the best dumpling houses in Chinatown - we're talking authentic Chinese dumplings."
Another critic said: "The best in Houston. No one does it better."
But others don't get it:
"The dumplings were fully mediocre . . . .we'd have pan fried some of the frozen dumplings we buy at one of the grocery stores on Bellaire and they would have tasted about the same."
I agree that the filling of these dumplings is nothing special. But that isn't the point. I have pan fried frozen pot stickers many, many times, and I have never achieved this texture. If you are talented enough to create dumplings of this texture at home, by all means, save $4.50 and skip Sandong. But I haven't found any other Houston restaurant, regardless of price, that makes a dumpling exterior this good.
On a Saturday at Sandong, I noticed something on the counter that did not appear to be on the menu. It was a bun with an exterior like a pan-fried dumpling. Can anyone tell me from the photo what this dish is?
This exterior of this bun had a texture similar to the pan-fried dumplings. But the filling was different. It consisted of minced green onion, Chinese mushroom, tofu, and glass noodles. It was difficult to eat with chopsticks, but a nice vegetarian alternative to the pork dumplings.
I have to report on the strangest part of my Sandong experience. After eating a plate of pan-fried dumplings and a drinking a pot of tea, I began to feel strange. At first, I just felt happy and satiated. Then, I felt balanced, at peace. Then, love began streaming in from the universe. I realized I was experiencing a full on case of euphoria.
This was not just my happiness to find good dumplings. This was something chemical. Was it all the carbohydrates? The caffeine? The chilp paste? Did someone slip something in my tea?
Whatever it was, you can bet that I will return to Sandong.
NEXT: For more Chinatown dumplings, Anonymous Child and I get pan-fried dumplings and Szechuan spicy dumplings at Xiong Cafe.
(Update: May 18, 2008. Eating chile peppers causes the body to release endorphins, which are the body's natural opiates. Mystery solved.)