Bai Wei, Philadelphia

Bai Wei (previously Sakura Mandarin) has several things going for it during COVID times, it is spacious and airy and the tables are reasonably far apart, but the staff is lackadaisical about checking vaccination status. I have been there twice and ordered several dishes each time. The cold sesame noodles were good and reminded me of the old-school NYC sesame noodles that used to come for free if you ordered $20 or more for delivery. The pancakes stuffed with chives and egg were also very good, but the scallion pancakes were a disappointment; they seemed to have been deep fried.

The Dumplings: The dumplings were quite disappointing. The first time there, I had the steamed veggie dumplings they were really good but the second time around they were way over cooked, to the point where the green dough was washed out and had turned pale. The Pork Wontons in Chili Oil were another fail. The wontons themselves were under stuffed with measly amounts of filling and were served lukewarm. Probably because they were under cooked, the wrappers were stiff and chewy. In addition they were not even served in chili oil, but rather they were served in a mixture of soy sauce and the same sesame sauce that came with the noodles. There might have been a little chili oil mixed in, but there was no chili spice heat..

Lastly the Pan Fried Pork Soup Dumplings (Sheng Jian Bao) were weak. The pork filling tasted pretty good, but there was no soup and the bottoms of the bao were not nearly fried enough, plus the bottoms of the bao were quite oily. It is hard to do fried soup dumplings right, so that the bottom of the bao is seared dark brown and there is still liquid soup inside of the bao. In the US you can usually expect the bottom of the bao to be seared but I have rarely been served this dish with liquid soup inside the bao. I order this dish because I enjoy the contrast of the crispy texture of the fried part of the bao and soft texture of the steamed part of the bao and the umami flavor from the Maillard reaction that occurs when the bottom of the bao is seared. If there is soup inside then that is a bonus. But no searing on the bottom of the bao and no soup inside makes for a weak pan fried pork soup dumpling.

The Location: Bai Wei is on the corner of 11th street and Race street at the edge of Philadelphia’s Chinatown. But my recommendation is that you head deeper into Chinatown and try one of the many other options available there.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, Chive, Philadelphia, Pork, Sesame Sauce, Soup Dumpling, Veggie Dumplings | Leave a comment

Heading back into the kitchen

With the Omicron surge upon us the Dumpling Hunter team is retreating from restaurant dining for a while and returning to home cooking. We recently tried making pork and kimchi dumplings using OmniFoods plant based ground pork. I am not going to post the recipe because they did not turn out that great, but the pictures are pretty. The OmniPork worked quite well for making pork and scallion wontons, but the mild flavor of the OmniPork was totally overpowered by the kimchi. The kimchi itself was excellent, but these dumplings did not replicate the truly great flavor of pork and kimchi dumplings.

Stay safe out there.

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Izakaya E.A.K., Hell’s Kitchen, NY

Izakaya E.A.K. is part of Japan’s E.A.K. Ramen chain of restaurants (in Japan known as the Machida Shoten chain), which specializes in IEKEI ramen. According to their website they have over 400 locations in Japan and a presence in Singapore, Taiwan, Phillipines, Italy, China, Thailand and the U.S., with three locations in New York City. IEKEI style ramen marries together the Tonkotsu style of Kyushu and the Shoyu style of Tokyo and is topped with spinach instead of green onions and uses a thick, straight noodle. Izakaya E.A.K. serves their IEKEI ramen, including three vegan ramens, and a decent selection of typical izakaya dishes.

The Dumplings: The Homemade Ginger Gyoza were grilled and then a batter was poured on top of them, so when they are done, they are cooked into a fried disk of batter. This preparation is often called “dumpling lace” or “crispy lace skirt”, and as the names imply the fried batter is usually very thin, crispy and lace like. At Izakaya E.A.K. the fried batter layer was instead thick and leathery and not particularly enjoyable. The pork gyoza filling also contained a lot ginger, so much so, that it was overkill and the dumplings had a metallic aftertaste. The dipping sauce also have a lot of raw ginger flavor which just added to the metallic flavor.

The takoyaki where artfully presented but sadly did not come adorned with bonito flakes. I actually prefer this dish presented as street food, in a paper boat style container with takoyaki sauce and Japanese mayo sauce squirted everywhere, and a big pile of bonito flakes waving in the thermal currents coming off the blazing hot takoyaki. Speaking of which the takoyaki I was served were only lukewarm. The outside was fried crispy and the inside was creamy, so I think my serving had sat for a bit before they were brought to me.

Thankfully the meal was not a complete bust, because the Butakaku (pork belly) bao were sensational. The bao were filled with a thick slab of very tender, creamy with layers of fat, pork belly that tasted amazing. The bao were doused with a ton of Japanese mayonnaise. The contrast of the savory pork and the sweetness of the bao bun and the mayonnaise created a perfect blend of sweet and savory. This is almost certainly the best pork bao I have ever eaten.

Location: Izakaya E.A.K. is on 46th St. between Eighth and Ninth Avenue, which is the theater district’s pre-show restaurant row. It is right next to sake bar Hagi 46.

Posted in Bao, Gyoza, Izakaya, Japanese, New York City, Pan Fried, Pork, Potsticker, Ramen Bar, Takoyaki | Leave a comment

Saigon Quy-Bau, Philadelphia PA

Saigon Quy-Bau opened in Aug 2021 and is named for the Chef’s Vietnamese name, Bau, and his older brother’s name, Quy, which together means “prestigious”.  The Chef, Corey Nguyen, is a veteran of the Fountain and Swann Lounge at the old Four Seasons Hotel and previously ran the elegant Colonial Quy-Bau, which closed during the lockdowns. The new Saigon Quy-Bau claims to serve “French Inspired Vietnamese with a flair of Thai Cuisine”.  We tried the Com Chien Thit Nuong which is Vietnamese style BBQ pork over jasmine fried rice, which was excellent.  The pork was perfectly caramelized and had the sweet and charred flavor that you want from Vietnamese BBQ.  The Pho Rau & Tofu, which is vegan, was less successful.  The Pho broth was pretty good and had clear Vietnamese flavors, but the vegetables were over cooked and close to mushy.

The Dumplings:  I am not used to seeing dumplings on a Vietnamese menu but the lunch menu at Saigon Quy-Bau has several varieties:  crispy curry chicken dumplings in a sweet soy ginger glaze; steamed pork dumplings with a bell pepper tomato sauce; crispy wontons filled with shrimp and fresh herbs served with a plum ginger sauce; and steamed portabella mushroom and leek dumplings with a caramelized onion and shiitake sauce.  We tried the steamed portabella mushroom and leek dumplings and were blown away, this dish is the reason to return to Saigon Quy-Bau.  The dumplings were steamed to perfection so that the wrappers had a slight al dente chew to them and the filling was sweet and umami from the leeks and mushrooms.  The sauce was also brilliant. It was light but so flavorful with onion sweetness, a slight umami funk from the shiitake and hints of ginger.  If they sold this sauce in bottles I would buy it and if they provided straws with the dish I would slurp the sauce off the plate. The portabella mushroom and leek dumplings are vegan.

The Location:  Saigon Quy-Bau is on South street in Philadelphia at the corner of Clarion street, which is one block East of Broad Street.

Posted in Philadelphia, Steamed, Vegan, Vegetarian, Vietnamese | Leave a comment

Cafe Cuong, Philadelphia PA

Café Cuong is a tiny family run café that is best known for its Banh Mi sandwiches, which are excellent, and its Vietnamese coffee.  The café is in what appears to be a row house and it feels like the counter and the one tiny table are in what used to be a small living room.  While the focus is on Banh Mi, they also frequently have Com chay cha bong, which are sheets of crispy rice topped with fish sauce, dried shrimp and pork floss (pork shredded so finely it has the consistency of cotton candy).  Of late they have also been serving Banh Gio, also known as Vietnamese pyramid rice dumplings. Banh Gio are made with a pork stock, rice flour and tapioca starch batter that is put into a pyramid shaped cone made of banana leaves, along with a filling of seasoned pork, wood ear mushrooms and a quail egg.  The banana leaves are folded origami style to seal up the cone into a pyramid shape and then the pyramid is steamed. 

Online sources say that Banh Gio originated in Northern Vietnam and got their name because they were made by Vietnamese charcutier who make the mortadella like pork sausage called gio.  Banh is a generic Vietnamese term for foods made with flours, legumes and starches, so Banh Gio.

The Dumplings:  I discovered that I am not a huge fan of the texture of the rice batter, it was like eating a lot of the wrapper from an over cooked crystal shrimp dumpling.  But the flavor was amazing, lots of porky goodness along with an infusion of mild tea flavor from the banana leaf wrapper.  The pork filling was loosely ground and mixed with strips of wood ear mushroom and had lots of flavors, I’m guessing it was cooked with aromatics and maybe soy or oyster sauce. Pork flavor had also infused into the white of the quail egg, which took the egg to 11. I asked if they make the Banh Gio in house and was told they do not, but instead get them from an older woman in the neighborhood who home cooks them.

The location:  Café Cuong is on 8th street, just above Christian Street, in an area sometimes referred to as Bella Vista and also referred to as the Italian Market neighborhood (it is one block East of the Market).  Also since, further south on 8th street there is the Little Saigon neighborhood, it could also be thought of as the northern reaches of Little Saigon.  Café Cuong is currently doing take-out only and given its size, in the before times I am sure it didn’t seat many people.  So I recommend taking your Banh Gio and Banh Mi to the park on Catherine street, it is just a half-block north of the Café.

(Sorry the pix of the Banh Gio are not my strongest work. Threw in one of their Banh Mi too)

Posted in Pork, Rice Dumplings, Steamed, Vietnamese | Leave a comment

Little Alley, Scallion Stuffed Pocket


Little Alley is a Taiwanese food company whose products are represented and distributed in the U.S. by the Well Luck Co. Inc. The Scallion Stuffed Pocket is the love child of a scallion pancake and a Hot Pocket. The pocket dough is make of scallion pancake dough that has been folded and layered like a traditional scallion pancake. This gives the pocket the layering that produces the crispy outside and slightly chewy flaky inner layers that are characteristic of a scallion pancake. The pocket is stuffed with lots of chopped scallions, white onions and fried chives, more that you get in a typical scallion pancake..

These pockets were really good, definitely worth having in the freezer for a snack . As I noted above, the dough of the pocket fries up to have a very similar texture to a scallion pancake, but because they are ram-packed with scallions they had a more intense flavor than scallion pancakes do. The pockets themselves are round and puck shaped and are about 4 inches in diameter. Also of note they are vegan. I picked these up at my local HMART.

Posted in Chinese, Dim Sum, Frozen Dumpling Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sajo Vegan 0.6 Dumplings


I could not find out a lot about this Korean company online, although several online retailers sell these dumplings. The search was also difficult because several Korean companies have Sajo in their name. These dumpling’s claim to fame is that their wrappers are supper thin, 0.6 mm thin, as proudly displayed in the name on the packaging. The dumplings are filled with tofu, green onions, cabbage, carrots and glass noodles and something called artificial beef flavour 04076. The dumplings tasted quite good, with general savory flavor, with some cabbage notes at the end. I did not notice any of the fake beef flavor. The dumpling have a sort of rounded wedge shape and it is easy to pan-fry the top and bottom surface of the wedge, and because the wrapper is so thin they quickly fry up crispy. But it is more difficult to fry the surface at the thick end of the the wedge and so the thick part of the wedge ends up being a little mushy. These are a decent dumpling and HMART is selling them in sets of two bags taped together.

Posted in Frozen Dumpling Review, Korean, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | Leave a comment

Viet Bistro, Philadelphia PA

Viet Bistro has been open for about two weeks and the rumor is, that it is the new venture from the owners of the much missed Huong Tram at Hoa Binh Plaza on 16th and Washington.  I didn’t get the opportunity to eat at Huong Tram, which was reputed to serve excellent food and was a huge space that families would gather at.  In contrast Viet Bistro is a small joint with two booths and a couple of tables.  In addition to the classic Pho, Bun, Pan Fried Noodle, and Broken Rice dishes, the menu includes vegetarian stir fries that can be made vegan and a seafood section: the Salt Pepper shrimp with shells were excellent.  I didn’t try one yet, but I have been told that the Banh Mi are really good too.  The only detraction for Viet Bistro is that their air handling/extraction system does not work, you will leave there with your clothes smelling like Vietnamese Food.

The Dumplings: it is not often that you see dumplings on the menu at a Vietnamese restaurant, but Viet Bistro has two styles of fried dumpling, vegetable or pork filled.  The dumplings are tiny little golden nuggets that are cooked deep fried and can be popped into your mouth and eaten in one bite.  The vegetable dumplings tasted like fried snacks with no real vegetable flavors and, unexpectedly, a mild fried fish flavor.  I liked them.  The dumplings come with a sweet and spicy chili sauce.

The Location:  Viet Bistro is on South street between 16th and 17th streets, this is essentially the border of the Graduate Hospital and Rittenhouse Square neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

Posted in Gyoza, Philadelphia, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings, Vietnamese | Leave a comment

Wontons made with OmniFoods Plant Based Pork

While it has been available in Asia for some time, OmniFoods plant based pork has finally become available in the U.S. (at WholeFoods and Sprouts markets). There is an interesting article (here) with David Yeung on the business side of OmniFoods and the investments that have gone into the company.

The ground pork product is vegan and made from peas, non-GMO soy, shiitake mushroom and rice.  I mixed half the 11oz package of pork with one tablespoon sesame oil, one tablespoon of soy sauce and a chopped scallion and used the mix to make wontons.  Half of the wontons went into a wonton soup and the other half was boiled and doused with a peanut-sesame sauce.  Half a package made 12 good size wontons.

The OmniFoods pork does not have a strong pork flavor; it has a mild savory flavor up front with some recognizable pork notes on the finish.  When cooked, the texture however is spot on, it looks and eats just like a real pork dumpling filling. I think overall, when mixed with soy sauce, sesame oil and scallions the OmniFoods pork makes a convincing pork dumpling.  I think if I had added a little ginger to the filling the wontons would have been spot on flavor-wise.  Perhaps the best endorsement for OmniFoods pork realness came from my vegan dining companion, who said it was almost too real to eat.  

Posted in Pork, Recipe, Vegan, Vegan Recipe, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings, Wontons | 1 Comment

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