I recently took a road trip to Philadelphia and since my traveling companion was a vegan we did a mini-tour of places serving vegan dumplings. We hit New Harmony and Sammy Chon’s K-Town BBQ in Chinatown and Su Xing House on Sansom street. The “Vegan” in the title of this post gets an asterisk because Sammy Chon’s K-Town BBQ has some strange ideas about what vegetarian and vegan means.
New Harmony is part of the Loving Hut chain of vegan restaurants run by the cyber-sect Supreme Master Ching Hai International, which is the corporate entity behind Ching Hai’s Guanyin Famen / Quan Yin Method. If you travel a lot and need to find vegan food, sooner or later you will run into a Loving Hut. I have been to Loving Huts in San Francisco, Seoul and elsewhere in Korea and now Philly. They are not all called Loving Hut, but after you have been to a few you learn to spot the tell-tale signs – the portraits of Ching Hai, the reading materials and the videos of Ching Hai’s lectures playing on wide screen TVs. Each Loving Hut is free to create their own menu, as long as it meets the dictates of Ching Hai, but regardless of what is served there is a flavor profile that I have come to associate with Loving Hut.
The Dumplings We tried the Steamed Spinach Dumplings which were filled with Chinese cabbage, we think bok choy, carrot, water chestnut and scallion. The wrappers were a deep green color, hopefully from spinach juice rather than food coloring, and had a mild savory flavor and a really nice crunchy mouth feel from the water chestnuts. We also tried the Steamed Dragon Dumpling which were filled with vegan ham, carrot and cabbage. The fake meats in Asian restaurants are vastly better than those found in Western vegetarian restaurants and the fake pork and hams are close to spot on, so the Dragon Dumplings worked pretty well. The fake ham gave the dumplings a noticeable smoky-salty-sweet ham note. One weakness of New Harmony’s dumplings was that they didn’t appear to be freshly made but rather frozen commercially produced ones.
The Sauce The sauce was an overly sweet soy and vinegar sauce.
Sammy Chon’s K-Town BBQ. We picked this place because the online menu indicated that several of the dishes could be made vegetarian or vegan. Our first clue there might be a problem here, was when the waiter asked us how strict a vegan my dining companion was. Our second clue was when the waiter told us the kimchi jjigae could definitely be made vegetarian, as long as it was OK for the chef to use beef broth; same story for the soondubu.
The Dumplings Since the vegetarian dumplings turned out to have egg in the wrapper and thus were off the table for vegan dining, the rest of the group went for the Pork and Chive dumplings. While the entrees we had at Sammy Chon’s were mediocre, the pork and chive dumplings were really good. They were deep fried, so they were crispy and crackly on the outside, but weren’t heavy with grease, and were still juicy on the inside. They were very similar to the dumplings served at Buchon in Seoul, but didn’t have the glass noodles as part of the filling. While overall I don’t recommend Sammy Chon’s for dinner, I do recommend the pork and chive dumplings, perhaps for a late night snack after some drinking.
The Sauce. The sauce was a thin watery soy sauce with a slight vinegar taste, not particularly good.
Su Xing Vegetarian Every item on the menu is vegan except apparently for one, some one had penciled in “has egg” next to one of the items on my menu. Su Xing has some tradition Chinese dishes, but mainly specializes in vegan interpretations of American-Chinese dishes, so the menu has a very “meta” feel to it. The sautéed pea vines and Kung Pow Tofu were both quite good, but towards the end of the meal we found a chunk of plastic in the pea vines.
The Dumplings The Steamed Vegetable dumplings were filled with cabbage, tofu and broccoli and seemed to have been seasoned with a little sesame oil which added a nice smokiness to the filling. The wrapper was a commercially made, but the dumplings themselves may have been hand filled at the restaurant. Overall these dumplings were solidly good.
The Sauce They served a soy-vinegar dipping sauce with slivered ginger, again like New Harmony, the sauce was a little too sweet.
The Location New Harmony and Sammy Chon’s are close together in Philadelphia’s Chinatown while Su Xing House is in Central City on Sansom Street.