Nasoya vegan dumplings
I am really glad that Nasoya has transitioned their vegetarian products to be fully vegan. The company has been around since 1978 when it began by making tofu in a barn in Leominster, Massachusetts. The company was bought out by Pulmuone Foods in 2016, but the brand carried on. I previously made giant dumplings from their newly vegan egg roll wrappers which came out quite good, so I was excited to try the tofu vegetarian dumplings.
Pan Fried Nasoya Tofu Vegetable Dumplings
The dumplings are fully organic and are filled with “super firm tofu”, crimini mushrooms, potato starch, yellow onion, and carrots “2% or less” green onion, Bok Choy, onion, toasted sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and chili pepper flakes. The dumplings were prepared as directed on the package, pan fried on both sides and then steamed with a little water. Given Nasoya’s Asian themed product line, the texture of the dumpling wrappers was surprisingly like peirogi, quite solid and chewy. The filling was also quite dense, probably due to the “super firm tofu” filling. Other than a slightly harsh note of ginger (amazing what less than 2% can do), the dumplings did not have much in the way of flavor. Luckily, I had made a bunch of other dishes for dinner, because these dumplings were really disappointing. Buy Nasoya’s wonton wrappers or egg roll wrappers and make your own vegan dumplings.
Nasoya Dumplings in their carton
Whole Foods Pierogi
While I have been enjoying the recent expansion of buns and dumplings at Whole Foods sushi counter, it seems the overall quality of fruits and vegetables has declined since Amazon took over. Sure the prices of avocado have come down but the greens now often look wilted and beat up and the produce shelves are often half empty. While my frequency of shopping at Whole Foods has declined since the sale I still end up there every now and then. I recently stopped in and bought the Potato and Spinach Pierogi they sell in the refrigerator section. To cook them I boiled them as instructed on the package and then pan fried them with onions which gave the wrappers a nice crisp. I thought they did do a good job with dough wrappers, they were quite thick and so stood up to the boiling and subsequent pan-frying and had an enjoyable chew. But, even with the onions the pierogis were quite bland, it tasted like the potato filling had not been seasoned and I couldn’t taste the spinach at all. For the second batch I made, I tried boosting the overall flavor by sauteing the boiled peirogi in garlic, butter and onions which punched up the flavor of the overall dish. These pierogi were far from great but the photos came out well, here they are served on a plate made by the Dumpling Hunter.
Four Cheese Ravioli in Pesto Alfredo Sauce
Maggiano’s Little Italy, is a chain of red-sauce American-Italian restaurants that started in Chicago in 1991 with the concept of “re-creating the classic pre-World War II dinner house featuring family size portions”. The chain was launched by the same hospitality company that would go on to create the Wow Bao chain.
The location I hit in Philadelphia had tables covered in red and white checked table clothes and a menu with giant salads, red sauce pasta and lots of Parmesan options. Judging by the calories listed on the menu they reached their mission statement and have managed to squeeze family size portions into each entree order. I really enjoyed their Chopped Salad which comes with tomatoes, blue cheese, avocado and usually crispy Prosciutto, which I skipped. I got the side salad portion which was a large bowl that could have served as lunch by itself. They do serve several local Philadelphia and Pennsylvania beers.
Four Cheese Ravioli
The Dumplings: The Philly location serves Four Cheese Ravioli in Pesto Alfredo Sauce and Mushroom Ravioli al Forno in Alfredo Sauce. Probably as a result of the giant cheese stuffed ravioli covered in the heavy cream and Parmesan cheese based Alfredo sauce, the Four Cheese ravioli weighs in at 1050 calories per serving. It was not clear to me which four cheeses were in the ravioli, but they were all mild-flavored and the main taste was of Parmesan from the Alfredo sauce, with little noticeable pesto flavor. There were some patches of charred cheese sauce and some of the ravioli had charred areas, so I think the plate had been put under a broiler right before it was served, but I don’t think this added anything to the flavor. The dish is served with a slash of red sauce down the middle of the plate which provided some contrasting acid flavor and cut, a little, the heaviness and monotony of the cream-cheese sauce. But still, this was a very rich and heavy dish and was more than I could eat.
The Location: the Maggiano’s Little Italy chain has around 50 locations predominantly on the East Coast. I hit the Philadelphia location which is at 1201 Filbert Street, right next to the Reading Terminal Market. If you are in that neighborhood and craving Italian food, I would consider DiNic’s inside the market, which serves a delicious Italian pork, provolone and broccoli rabe sandwich and has a legitimate history in Philadelphia’s Italian community.
The options for eating excellent Chinese food around the Columbia University campus continue to expand. The Tang, which opened on the Upper West Side about 8 months age, bills itself as a noodle bar that serves contemporary Chinese food in the styles that are actually being eaten in China now. The owner is from a family of Beijing restaurateurs and opened the original Tang, now closed, in the East Village in 2016, and now also has a Sichuan hotpot restaurant on the Bowery. The Tang is a more up-market option than the other Chinese restaurants around Columbia, it has a sleek interior design, table seating and a counter bar that looks into the open kitchen. In terms of price and up-scale decor The Tang is on par with the nearby Atlas Kitchen, but the food at The Tang is far superior.
The Dumplings: On the menu the Pork Dumplings in Chili Oil get two out of a possible three red chili peppers, but the chili oil really was not that hot and didn’t have a lot of flavor. But the small wonton style dumplings, filled with pork and chives, were delicious.
The Fried Pork & Chives Dumplings are about twice the size of the wontons with the same delicious filling and are served doused with chili oil. While again the chili oil was not very spicy, the seared and charred edges of the fried dumpling wrappers gave the oil a welcome smokiness. In addition, black vinegar dipping sauce, which I usually dislike, worked really well with the chili oil coated dumplings and produced a delicious combination.
I also tried the Fried Pork Buns, which are Chinese buns folded around slices of slightly sweet braised pork belly, topped with pickled cabbage and dressed with mayonnaise mixed with Sriracha. The menu also listed scallions as part of the dressing, but except for a lone green sliver, they didn’t appear on my order. Overall this was my least favorite of the three dishes, it was good but not great. The pickle on the cabbage was quite light and didn’t bring enough sour and acid to the buns. I also did not enjoy the bun, which were deep fried to a bronze color. The frying made the buns stiff and brittle and removed all the fluffiness that makes Chinese buns so good.
The Location: The Tang is on Amsterdam Avenue on the corner of 105th street in the Manhattan Valley neighborhood, about 8 blocks south of Columbia University. There are a lot of other great options for Chinese food in this area (a map here).
Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings in Chili Oil
Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings in Chili Oil
Pork Wontons in Chili Oil
Pork Wontons in Chili Oil
Fried Pork Buns
Surasang is one of the brands of Samjin Globalnet, a Korean company dedicated to exporting traditional Korean foods to the world. The company has been around since 1970 and has multiple brands and huge array of products. The word Surasang refers to the traditional table setting in Korean Royal Court Cuisine that held 30+ dishes of food.
The Surasang Kimchi Dumplings are small and bite size but are total flavor bombs. The cabbage kimchi filling is not particularly spicy but has lots on pungent, fermented kimchi flavor. The ingredient list includes oysters, which I assume were used in the kimchi, so these dumplings are not vegetarian. The filling also includes vermicelli glass noodles and textured tofu, the later of which gives the filling a slight meaty texture. I have been pan-frying them and have found that they burn easily, perhaps because they are so small. The Surasang Kimchi Dumplings are a great product to have in the freezer for a quick dinner or snack.
Pan-fried Surasang Kimchi Dumplings on a plate made by Dumpling Hunter
Steamed Pork and Shrimp Dumplings
With the notable exception of Saiguette, Vietnamese restaurants in NYC don’t really serve dumplings, so I had gone to Pho Shop planning to try their Banh Mi sandwich. But I discovered they sell steamed dumplings, so I ended up having a much larger dinner than I planned. The classic Banh Mi with Vietnamese ham, house bacon and pate with lots of pickled daikon and carrot was quite good, but they didn’t seem to be using the classic Banh Mi roll, which was a disappointment.
The Dumplings: Pho Shop serves steamed dumplings filled with chicken, pork and shrimp or vegetables. I got the pork and shrimp variety, which come six large dumplings to an order, and were filled with minced pork, scallions and big pieces of shrimp. The shrimp brought a slight sweet and saline flavor to the savory pork and mild pepper flavor from the scallions. The wrappers were slightly sweet and cooked al dente so they had a good mouth chew. The addition of the slightly sweetened soy dipping sauce Pho Shop serves took these dumpling to 11 – these dumplings were very good. One thing to know is that the dumplings take a long time to steam and so do not work well as an appetizer before a main course.
The Location: Pho Shop took over the space that was previously Izakaya Ida and they did a pretty thorough re-model, so the interior is now very warm and inviting. They are located on the Northern side of 72nd street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Yogurt flavored soft drink
Usually when I am in Boston for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones‘ Hometown Throwdown shows, I also go to Boston’s Chinatown for dim sum. This trip however, I went to Kaju, a small Korean restaurant, in Kenmore Square, conveniently near the show venue. Although the smells coming out of the kitchen instantly made me hungry and the stews and grilled meats being eaten at other tables looked great, unfortunately from a dumpling perspective going to Kaju instead of dim sum was a mistake. The only redeeming part of the meal was the mini bottle of “yogurt flavored soft drink” that they hand out with the check. This is a uniquely Korean thing and I love these little bottles of drinkable yogurt.
Undercooked shrimp shumai
Overcooked veggie mandoo
The Dumplings: kaju serves shrimp shumai that you can order either steamed or fried and mandoo filled with beef or veggies that can be ordered steamed or fried. The veggie mandoo are vegan.
The “steamed” shumai that I was served were under cooked and still cold in places, which suggested to me that they were microwaved rather than actually cooked in a steamer. The veggie Mandoo were filled with minced cabbage, carrots, and edamame and I think they would have tasted pretty good, except the order I was served was completely over cooked. These dumplings were distended and floppy and on the edge of falling apart. Probably they were left in the microwave too long. Another problem with this meal was that the dipping sauce was very cold, instead of room temperature. This meant the shumai just got colder when I dipped them in the sauce.
Granted this was a Sunday lunch, over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday break and maybe they did not have their A-Team working this shift, but the meal was completely disappointing. Except of course, for the “yogurt flavored soft drink” dessert.
The Location: Kaju is a small basement joint in Kenmore Square, right across from the Green T – line stop.
For New Year’s Day we made two styles of dumplings for dinner; the first batch was filled with tofu, kimchi and shiitake mushrooms, the second was filled with spinach, shiitake mushrooms, chopped water chestnuts and Just Egg. We steamed all the dumplings and then pan-fried about half of them. Here is a montage of the process of making the dumplings.
Pan-fried dumplings presented on a plate made by the Dumpling Hunter
Chopped Shiitake Mushrooms
Nasoya Wonton Wrappers are finally vegan
Our Steamer sitting in a Wok
Tofu mixed with Kimchi
Steamed and then pan-fried
Spinach and Mushroom filling
Steamed dumpling with dipping sauce
Wontons waiting to be steamed
Pan-fried dumplings presented on a plate made by the Dumpling Hunter
I have blogged about and ‘gram’d Moshi Moshi’s dumplings a lot, but now in response to the dearth for good ramen in the Pioneer Valley, Moshi Moshi has gotten into the ramen game. I know that ramen is off brand for this blog, but it is so good I had to write about it, plus I threw in a picture of their Bento Box which includes some of their vegan dumplings. Sam, the chef at Moshi Moshi, is making his own broths, currently pork tonkotsu and chicken curry broths. His pork tonkotsu is rich, creamy and thick with a deep pork flavor, it is ridiculously good. The ramen comes with a whole egg cut in half, and lots of vegetables, and he is also torching the pork belly which gives the meat a char and smokey flavor that diffuses into the broth. His ramen is the best I have tried in the Pioneer Valley and better than many I have tried in New York and LA.
I also love his spicy, crunchy tuna hand roll, I could make an entire meal of these hand rolls.
Vegetable Bento Box
Spicy, Crunchy Tuna Hand Roll
The NY Times published an interesting article on Chinese restaurant’s declining share of the restaurant market. The article frames the decline in terms of the immigrant journey of Chinese immigrants taking whatever jobs were available in the U.S., commonly in restaurants, and striving for better opportunities for the next generation. As a result, the second and third generations are often not continuing the family restaurant business.
There are a few examples in New York though, of the second and third generation expanding or re-opening restaurants and food businesses. Xi’an Famous Foods, Nom Wah Tea Parlor and Fong Inn Too have each been expanded or re-opened by the younger generations of the family that established the businesses. There is also the example of Mimi Cheng’s, which was opened by a pair of sisters inspired to sell dumplings using their mother’s recipes.