Ratchada Thai & Laos Cuisine, Philadelphia

Ratchada Thai & Laos Cuisine sprang from the closing of Cafe De Laos, when two ex-employees, determined to keep Laotian cuisine represented in the Little Saigon neighborhood of Philly, took over the space and kept the kitchen going.  Even though the Delta surge seems to be in decline, we are trying to only dine outside, so I only briefly peeked into Ratchada and don’t have much to report about the ambiance. The menu has a good selection of vegan and vegetarian options, although this is not readily apparent from their online menu.

The DumplingsRatchada serves three types of dumplings: Thai dumplings filled with ground pork, water chestnuts and Thai herbs; the Tulip dumpling filled with steamed ground shrimp, chicken and crabmeat; and the vegan Buddha dumpling. The Thai dumpling is a golf ball sized ball of pork and chopped water chestnut that is wrapped in a wonton, with the wonton smoothed around the meat so the dumpling is spherical.  These dumplings are deep fried until the wonton has formed a crispy shell around pork, which stays very juicy and fragrant with Thai herbs.  Be careful when biting into these dumplings, they stay really hot inside and also when you crunch through the shell, juice may shoot out. This was a very, very good dumpling.  It came with a thick soy based dipping sauce and a cabbage slaw.  The waitress told us that a lot of people don’t eat the slaw, apparently thinking it is decoration, but you must eat the slaw, it is delicious: sweet, sour, spicy and crunchy. 

We also tried the Buddha dumplings as part of the Veggie Sampler appetizer.  These have a more traditional dumpling shape and are filled with finely chopped edamame, corn and some kind of starchy tuber vegetable and are deep fried.  These dumplings were also really good and were seasoned with a spice or herb I couldn’t identify, but enjoyed.

The waitress reported that all the dumplings an spring rolls, which were also great, are made in house from scratch.

The Location:  Ratchada Thai & Laos Cuisine on 11th street just south of Washington street in the Little Saigon neighborhood.  This the border of the South Philly and Hawthorne neighborhoods. 

        

Posted in Pork, Thai, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings, Wontons | Leave a comment

Big Catch Poke, Philadelphia PA

One thing I have noticed while walking around Philadelphia is that seemingly random restaurants sell Chinese Bao.  A case in point is Big Catch Poke, which has an 8.5 by 11 piece of printer paper stuck to its front window listing various Bao options.  Big Catch has a cold counter with lots of bins with Poke ingredients that you can choose from to make your bowl and a small warmer cabinet full of Bao.  In the Pre-Times they had two tables of seating up front and a patio out back, but for now they are doing to-go and pick-up service.

The Dumplings:  Big Catch serves four types of Bao: the Big Bao filled with steamed pork, Chinese sausage, egg, mushrooms and celery; Char Sui Bao filled with Cantonese BBQ pork, Hot Chick Bao filled with steamed chicken and “some veggies”; and Mini Pork buns filled with tender pork marinated in “various Chinese sauces”.  You can also get each of these with an avocado salad.       

I only tried two of the Bao offerings, and based on that sampling I think Big Catch is serving some excellent steamed buns.  The Big Bao was really flavorful and I could especially taste the celery and mushrooms, and the bun was beautifully light and fluffy.  My only note on this bun was that the Chinese sausage was incorporated as a single chunk of sausage, and I think the bun filling would have been better if the sausage was chopped into smaller pieces and distributed more in the filling.  But I loved having the half of a boiled egg in the bun as a single piece.  The Big Bao comes with a gold-brown dipping sauce that looks like a peanut sauce but has more of a salty, savory, spicey flavor, which works great with the Bao.  The trio of Mini Pork buns was also really good.  The menu only describes the filling as having been marinated in ‘various Chinese sauces” with no other details, but my guess is that one of them was Hoisin sauce.  My lunch of a Big Bao and the trio of mini buns was delicious and quite filling.  The prices for Bao are also really reasonable, so Big Catch is value for money too.

The Location:  Big Catch Poke is at 1840 E Passyunk Ave which is just north of Mifflin Street.  This is close to the western end of the East Passyunk corridor of restaurants and bars.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, Philadelphia, Steamed | 1 Comment

Baozza: Frozen Steamed Buns Filled with Pizza Toppings

Rating:

I was not planning to buy this product and review it. But after I posted a picture to Insta of Baozza boxes in the local supermarket freezer case a friend chastised me for not reviewing them. So here we are.

Baozza are the mutant mash-up of Chinese steamed buns (Bao) and pizza toppings (zza) that we did not need. These frozen Bao were developed by two expats living in Beijing and were apparently really successful in China, to the point that Mark Cuban became a significant investor.  They are now available in the U.S. at Sprouts Markets and by delivery through GoldBelly, and are being positioned to take over Hot Pocket’s market.  Baozza come in Cheezy Spinach, Italian Sausage, Pepperoni, BBQ Chicken and Margherita varieties, all of which include mozzarella cheese filling.  The boxes available at Sprouts contain two Baozza, each individually wrapped in a microwave-able plastic steamer pouch.   

I tried the Cheezy Spinach Baozza which are classically Bao shaped, but the dough is dusted with Italian herbs, like a focaccia or garlic bread.  Melted mozzarella cheese is always good, so Baozza have that going for them, and there was a lot of spinach in the mozz filling, so the bao had some semblance of nutrition.  But I found them to be very salty and the bao bread was quite dense and chewy, the exact opposite of a steamed bun. You might ask, what do I expect from a frozen Bao?, but I have had plenty of lighter and fluffier frozen bao over the years.   Per the instructions, I microwaved a Baozza in its plastic pouch for 1 minute and then pan-fried the Baozza to get a golden crust on the bottom.  Unfortunately the bun ruptured a little during the microwaving and mozz leaked out during the pan-frying. 

I have never tried a Hot Pocket, so I do not know how they compare, maybe Baozza will dethrone Hot Pockets.  But this seems like a concept we didn’t need and I was unimpressed with the realization of this Bao-Pizza mash-up concept.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, Frozen Dumpling Review, Italian, Pan Fried, Steamed, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Tortilleria San Roman, Philadelphia PA

Since opening in May of 2009, Tortilleria San Roman in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, has been churning out amazing, fresh corn tortillas.  A dough made of corn flour and water is put into a long squeaky conveyor belt that cuts and cooks the dough into tortillas and it seems like the machine runs all day long.  A pack of 15 fresh tortillas costs $1.50 and a pack of 30 costs $2.25, so this is the best bargain in the Italian Market. These are the best tortillas I have ever eaten.  Tortilleria San Roman is a tiny storefront that also sells salsa, tortilla chips, hot sause, Tajin seasoning and tlacoyo, the last of which is what grabbed our interest.

Tlacoyo are an oval shaped hand pie made by folding a tortilla around a filling and pinching it closed and then baking or frying the pie. Traditional fillings are cheese, fava beans, cooked ground beans, and chicharron. They are very reminiscent of pupusa, pasty and calzone.

The Dumplings:  Tortilleria San Roman makes it’s Tlacoyo with its corn tortillas and refried pinto beans and sells them six to a package for $4.50.  I asked the cashier how to prepare them and he said to simply microwave them and put some salsa on top.  The filling was not the most flavorful refried beans I have tried and I felt that the beans needed more seasoning. I should have listened to the cashier and picked up some salsa to put on top of them, but I made a quick dressing from Mayo, hot sauce and vinegar which livened up the dish.  But two Tlacoyo made a mildly savory and filling lunch and I think they would be excellent with some of the house salsa.  Tortilleria San Roman’s Tlacoyo are vegan.

The Location:  Tortilleria San Roman is located in Philadelphia’s Italian Market on the North-East corner of Carpenter Street and Ninth Street.       

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O’Food Brand Hot Pepper Japchae Dumplings

Rating:

I hit Philadelphia’s H-Mart for the first time to stock up on groceries and was blown away by the expansiveness of this H-Mart.  It has the largest wall of freezer cabinets dedicated to dumplings I have ever seen, with the bags and boxes organized by country.  For some reason the O’Foods Hot Pepper Japchae Dumplings caught my eye.  O’Food is the global brand representing Korea’s Chung Jung One food brand, which was founded on 1956 in Sunchang province as a fermenter making Gochujang and Doenjang paste.    

As suggested by their name, these dumplings are primarily filled with glass noodles with a smattering of very finely chopped vegetables, which the package lists as: chives, radish, carrot, soy protein, mushroom and garlic.  These dumplings don’t have a lot of flavor except for spicy heat from the green paprika, chili, and black pepper in the filling, and have a mushy texture. Overall these dumplings were not great, but can be cooked in a microwave in their package in about three minutes, so they are very convenient. If you eat them with a strong soy and vinegar dipping sauce, these packages of six dumplings make an OK snack.  

Posted in Frozen Dumpling Review, Korea, Korean | 1 Comment

Unit Su Vege, Philadelphia PA

Unit Su Vege is a vegetarian Chinese restaurant with lots of vegan options, that is the sister restaurant  to Su Xing House on Samson Street which I previously reviewed.  Unit Su Vege has an extensive Dim Sum menu, with more dumplings options than I could sample in one outing, and a full menu of classic American-Chinese dishes and some traditional Chinese dishes and a menu of vegan smoothies, shakes and milk teas.  The restaurant claims to be Kosher, but it is unclear which organization, if any, is overseeing the Kosher status.  There is a lot to try at this restaurant so I am planning on doing a few trips back to really explore the menu.

The Dumplings:  The menu lists 15 dumpling and bun options, of which we tried three.  The waitress did not initially bring us any dumpling sauce and when we requested some, we were brought only a small dish of sauce.

The Veg Soup Dumplings came painfully overcooked with half of the dumplings having ruptured wrappers and the other three dumplings tore apart as we tried to pick them up.  The filling was made of minced vegetables and, except for the obvious carrot content, it was hard to tell what vegetables made up the filling, but the filling was tasty.  I was only able to get a little of the soup, but it tasted good. These dumplings did not come with any of the traditional black vinegar dipping sauce. I think these dumplings would have been great if they had of been cooked well. 

We also tried the steamed veggie dumplings, which were filled with Chinese cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, celery, and dried tofu.  The taste of the cabbage dominated with these dumplings, which is fine if you like that flavor, but I thought they needed more seasoning.  Overall, these dumplings tasted seriously healthy.

The last dish we dried was the Kung Pao Chicken Buns, which were amazing.  The bun was perfectly light and fluffy with a slight sweet flavor.  The flavor of the filling began sweet, and tasted a lot like a BBQ pork bun, but on the second bite the spice heat of red chili peppers started to kicked in.  There were actually pieces of red chili pepper in the filling, like you would find in a Kung Pao dish.  This was a sensational steamed bun.    

The Location:  Unit Su Vege is on Hamilton between 20th and 21st streets in Philadelphia’s museum district. It is very close to the Rodin Museum and near the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rocky Steps. This is a great place to go for a late afternoon snack or dinner after a day at the museums.

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Paprica Modern Mediterranean Grill

Back in 2019 I posted about a PhillyMag.com article on the ascendance of manti dumplings in Philadelphia. Manti are small dumplings found in Turkish, Armenian, Uzbek, and other Middle Eastern and central Asian cuisines.  Wikipedia has an extensive discussion on the many forms of manti, their origins and possible links to Korean mandu, Chinese mantou, and Japanese manjū.  I recently hit Paprica Modern Mediterranean Grill, one of the restaurants featured in the PhillyMag article. 

Paprica serves lamb and spinach manti and I tried the spinach variety.  Even though I am fully vaccinated, with the delta variant spreading quickly I am wary of indoor dining.  So I got the manti to go and happily they stood up to a little extra steaming in their container on my trip home.  The spinach filling had a discernable spinach, health giving, flavor and had a good texture, and wasn’t just mush inside the wrapper.  The manti came doused with a mild, too timid, chili sauce and with a side of yogurt sauce.  The yogurt sauce was an excellent accompaniment drizzled on top the of the manti, it had a light consistency and a mild sourness that I liked, but it fully quenched the heat of the chili sauce.  I think a spicier chili sauce would have played well with the yogurt.  Paprica serves a large portion of manti that covered dinner and a left-overs lunch the next day, so they are a bargain.  Re-heating the manti in a micro-wave works well.

Paprica is on Samson Street between 8th and 9th in Center City Philadelphia.      

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Singaporean Rice Dumplings

Singapore’s Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth shared a graphic to its Facebook feed showing the six types of popular Zong Zi (rice dumplings) from various dialect and ethnic groups in Singapore.  Zong Zi are made of glutinous rice stuffed with a variety of fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves, or other large flat leaves, and are cooked via steaming or boiling. In the U.S. you will see them on Chinese menus listed as sticky rice dumplings or steamed sticky rice with Chinese Sausage. Zong Zi are most commonly eaten during the Duanwu Festival, or Dumpling Festival or Dragon Boat Festival, which occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, but this dish was also a form of “fast food” for many farmers working in the fields (much like the Pasty for Cornish miners).  These rice dumplings can range from sweet and desert like with red bean filling, to savory and salty with pork belly and salted duck egg filling, to spicy and numbing with Sichuan peppercorn, chili powder, and preserved pork filling.

Posted in News, Rice Dumplings, Sticky Rice | Leave a comment

New Dumpling Hunter Home Base

Dumpling Hunter is changing its home base of New York City and Western Massachusetts to NYC and Philadelphia. After exhaustively chronicling dumpling options in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts the blog will be focusing on the amazing options in Philadelphia, the larger mid-Atlantic region and of course NYC. Philadelphia hosts a Chinatown, a Koreatown, the Little Saigon neighborhood, fresh ravioli in the Italian Market, a bunch of Polish restaurants, lots of options for Middle Eastern Manti and a couple of places to get Cornish Pasties. Philadelphia restaurant reviews will begin this summer.

On past business trips and excursions to Philly we reviewed a hand full of restaurant, but now with a permanent base in Philly we will be covering a lot more places. The prior Philly posts are…

Bao Nine, Maggiano’s Little Italy, Jane G’s Dim Sum House, coZara, Danlu, Sangkee Noodle House, Mi Lah (since closed), Ocean City, The Real Le Anh Chinese Food Cart, New Harmony, Sammy Chon’s K-Town BBQ, and Su Xing Vegetarian.

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T Roots Revisited

I reviewed T Roots back in September 2020 and gave them a poor rating. But they had just opened and it was full on pandemic times and that could knock anyone off their game. So I gave them another try and the dumplings were much better than last time. The menu has the expected hits of Taiwanese cuisine – oyster omelet, scallion pancakes wrapped around beef, congee and stewed pork over rice – and several Japanese dishes – various types of curry rice and Omurice.  T Roots supposedly has a strong pedigree, the owner previously ran Taiwanese restaurants in NYC before moving to Western MA.

The first time I tried T Roots the soup dumplings were completely overcooked and disintegrated but this time they came out close to perfectly cooked with the wrappers maintaining their integrity and the soup held inside the dumpling. The soup dumpling’s flavor was good, probably the best I have had in the Pioneer valley, but the soup needed to be richer and fattier. The sauce for the dumplings was served in a thimble sized container which was too small to dip the dumplings in. I had to dribble the sauce over the dumplings as I ate each one.

I also re-tried the spicy wontons, which last time came still cold and dressed in a soy based sauce with not heat or spice at all. This time they were served hot and doused in a mild chili oil that provided a modicum of spicy. They also had a really tasty dipping sauce that also had a little spice to it. The wontons themselves had ample crinkled wonton surface area to carry the sauce and were well seasoned. These wontons were good, but not up to the standard of the Wontons in Red Oil at Panda Garden in Williamsburg.

T Roots is located in Northampton MA at the corner of Main Street and Masonic St. around the corner from the excellent Packard’s Pub.

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