H-Mart, New York, NY

Wall of freezer cabinets full of dumplings.

H-Mart is a U.S. Asian supermarket chain with locations throughout the United States, Canada, and London and with 61 locations is the largest Asian grocery store chain in the U.S.  The “H” in “H Mart” stands for Han Ah Reum, a Korean phrase meaning “one arm full of groceries”.  I love H-Mart, their produce is incredibly diverse and always super fresh, they give away tons of free samples including a wide range of kimchi styles, there is also often a food court full of kiosks selling cooked Chinese, Korean and Japanese food, and they have a wall of freezer cabinets full of dumplings.

Jumbo Leek Bun

Jumbo Leek Buns, Vegetable Dumplings and Stewed Spicy Tofu.

H-Mart also sells lots of hot, cold and room temperature to-go prepared foods including dumplings,  buns, a huge range of banchan (Korean appetizers) and a wide range of savory pancakes.  I recently tried the Jumbo Leek Buns which are filled with bean curd, onion, cabbage, green cabbage (I am assuming these are leaks), and green chili pepper.  These buns were really good, with a slightly sweet flavor from the cooked leaks and a little bit of spice pepper heat.  They are particularly good if you pan fry the bottom of the buns so they are crispy and golden.

I also grabbed some Vegetable Dumplings, which are filled with cabbage, soy bean curd, soy bean protein, onion, leak, soy sauce and sesame oil.  The dumplings were not as good as the buns, they had a general, mild savory flavor with a hint of cabbage and onion flavor.  But the texture of the filling was nice, with a slight crunch from the cabbage.  These dumplings didn’t really scream healthy green veggies, but were good with a dipping sauce. On side note, H-Mart’s tofu in spicy red pepper sauce is excellent.

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Han Dynasty, New York NY

Pork Wonton in Chili Oil

Han Dynasty is a mini-chain of Szechuan restaurants based in Philadelphia that has two outposts in Manhattan.  The first location opened in the East Village to multiple good reviews, as did the second on the Upper West Side.  But after trying the Upper West Side location I think Pete Wells’ NYTimes review of the East Village location nails it, he wrote “I’m mystified by the popularity of Han Dynasty in Manhattan, where there are far better Sichuan restaurants. Han Dynasty’s translation of the cuisine has a thick American accent.”

The Upper West Side location looks great, it has a good lounge and bar area and a large dining room with high ceilings and sky lights, but unfortunately the food was weak.  The fried rice dish I had was essentially unseasoned white rice with cubed pieces of carrots, green peas and scrambled eggs.  Han Dynasty’s Lo Mein would have been bland except for the all the salt they used, my local corner Chinese take-out makes better Lo Mein at half the price.  But it does amuse me that their web address, handynasty.net, sounds not safe for work.

Pork Wontons

The Dumplings:  Han Dynasty’s menu includes Dumplings in Chili Oil, Wontons in Chili Oil, Chicken Dumplings and Vegetable Dumplings.  The Han Dynasty menu provides spiciness gradings for the dishes from 1 to 10, the Dumplings in Chili Oil are rated a 4 and the Wontons in Chili Oil are rated a 6.  Other than the difference in spice level, the waiter described the difference in the wontons and dumplings as the wrappers of the dumplings are 4 times thicker than the wrappers of the wontons, he was very precise about this.  The Wontons in Chili Oil looked really good but other than a striking, almost painful level of spice heat, these pork wontons and their sauce had no flavor.  My dining companion asked that the heat on the level 4 Dumplings with Chili Oil be dialed back a bit, which revealed a bitter burnt flavor in the sauce. Maybe the toasting of the sesame oil went too far.

The Location:  The Upper West Side location of Han Dynasty is on 85th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.  As an alternative, really good dumplings can be found at Jing Fong 6 blocks south and excellent Szechuan food can be found at multiple restaurants 20 blocks north (see Grain House and Happy Hunan Hot Pot).

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Kubeh, New York, NY

Vegetable Kubeh in Hamusta Soup

Kubeh serves Eastern Mediterranean meze style cuisine with a menu is inspired by the chef’s Israeli-Iranian family recipes and time spent in kitchens with Syrian, Kurdish and Iraqi women.  I had the Labneh (a strained yogurt) with cucumber and zahtar, the cauliflower small plate and the Brussels sprouts special.  All three dishes were excellent but the cauliflower really stood out.  It appeared to have been coated and then fried, which gave it a crunch, and was served with sea salt, parsley and lemon.  Get the cauliflower and dip it in the Labneh.

Vegetable Kubeh

Kubeh is known for its namesake Kubeh soup.  Kubeh are a type of dumpling that come in a variety of styles.  Sometimes they have an outer dough-like shell and an inner filling; sometimes the ingredients are ground together into a ball or croquette; and sometimes kubeh is prepared in layers like a pie.   Kubeh can be fried, boiled, baked or served raw.  Kubeh are now a staple of Israeli cuisine, but originated in Kurdish, Iraqi and Syrian cuisine and was brought to Israel in the 1940s and 50s.

Mushroom filling

The Dumplings:  Kubeh specialize in the boiled version of kubeh served in broth.  Their kubeh selection includes Kurdish Siske – filled with slow cooked beef, Iraqi Vegetable – filled with mushroom, Syrian Fish – filled with cod, cilantro, tomato and cumin, Syrian Lamb – ground rice, lamb and mint.  I tried the Iraqi Vegetable Kubeh in Hamusta soup which is a vegetable broth with Swiss chard, zucchini and lemon.  The kubeh have a wrapper that is stiffer than boiled Chinese dumplings and slightly crumbly, which my dinning companion likened to being made of matzah ball dough.  The kubeh were filled with chopped mushrooms that were surprisingly, intensely flavorful and complemented the light bitterness of the Swiss chard in the soup.  There are three kubeh per serving and the Iraqi Vegetable ones are vegan.

The Soups:  There are four choices of soup to go along with the kubeh; Hamusta – swiss chard, zucchini and lemon, Selek – beet, celery and herbs, Persian Chicken Soup – chickpea, carrot, and dried lime, Tumia – tomato, fennel, mint and arak.  All the soups except the Persian Chicken Soup are vegan.

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Anthony Bourdain, 2018

Anthony Bourdain

I was deeply saddened to hear of Anthony Bourdain’s passing. I love his food/travel books and TV shows, and his love of the Ramones and old school New York City spoke to me.  His TV shows are my go-to for getting ideas for places to visit when I travel to new cities and even for trying out restaurants in my home town, New York.  The “Disappearing Manhattan” episode of No Reservations introduced me to the great Hop Kee in Chinatown.

In some ways Anthony Bourdain inspired this blog. When I was planning a work trip to Shanghai I watched Bourdain’s Shanghai episode of No Reservations to help plan my eating priorities.  The episode featured him eating soup dumplings at Nanxiang dumpling house in Yu Garden.  The soup dumplings I had at Nanxiang were eye opening and as delicious as Bourdain described. But later my hosts in Shanghai told me Nanxiang was a restaurant for Chinese tourists from other cities, not for true Shanghai-ese.  My hosts then took me on a tour of their favorite local dumpling spots.  Those dumplings at Nanxiang, the subsequent Shanghai eating tour and then some trips to Seoul, Korea served as the foundation of this blog.

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Flaming Kitchen, New York, NY

The gloriously named, Flaming Kitchen, serves Szechuan style dishes in a sleek modern styled dining room on the Bowery in New York City.  In addition to its main Szechuan menu, Flaming Kitchen has a Chinese-Cajun menu that features shrimp, crawfish and crab boils with ears of corn and potatoes.  This Chinese-Cajun mash-up seems aligned with the Viet-Cajun cuisine highlighted on David Cheng’s show, Ugly Delicious, when they visited Houston.  (As an aside, Ugly Delicious is the best food-travel show I have seen recently, Cheng totally nails it.)  For $16 we got a pound of shrimp boil with corn cob pieces delivered to the table in a big plastic bag.  The presentation was not aesthetically great and it was a little messy getting the shrimp out of the bag, but they tasted amazing.  The shrimp were served shell on and head on and were quite spicy, with less salt and way more garlic than I have had in seafood boils in New Orleans. When we ordered them I imagined they would be prepared with Szechuan pepper corns, but I didn’t get any of the mouth tingle and numbing that indicates the presence of pepper corns. The best part was sucking the juice out of the shrimp heads.

The Dumplings:  Flaming Kitchen has a wide dumpling menu that includes Szechuan and Shanghaiese styles of dumplings.

Szechuan Pork Dumplings in Chili Oil

Of the three plates of dumplings we tried, the Szechuan Pork Dumplings in Chili Oil were the best.  The pork dumplings were served sitting in a bowl of chili oil with a mash of Szechuan spices piled on top of the dumplings.  The pork filling was well seasoned and flavorful, with the spice heat, sweet, sour, and funky flavors of the oil and spices layered on top of the pork.  The spice level seemed to vary a lot within the mix of oil and spices, or maybe it was just as time passed the dumpling wrappers absorbed more oil. But all I know is the last couple of dumplings smacked me in the face with spice heat.  If you like this style of dumpling these were a great example.

Pan Fried Pork Buns

The pan fried small pork buns were seared crispy brown on the bottom which gave them a great caramelized sear flavor.  But I thought the buns were a little under stuffed with the pork filling and the ratio of fluffy bread to filling was too far in the direction of the bread.  The pork filling was also lacking in juice and so the buns were a little dry.  But overall these buns were pretty good, and they bordered on great when I used them to mop up the left over Szechuan chili oil and spice or dunked then into the Chinese-Cajun shrimp boil liquor.

Pan Fried Pork and Cabbage Dumplings

The pan fried pork and cabbage dumplings were classic pot sticker style dumplings that were pan fried on the bottom and then steamed so the tops of the wrappers were cooked and soft.  Chinese pot stickers are usually a pretty robust dumpling with a coarsely ground meat and vegetable filling and a thicker wrapper, but these dumplings reminded me of the delicate gyoza often served at Japanese restaurants.  The wrappers were very thin and the filling was minced very finely.  In fact so finely that without the description on the menu I would not have known that there was cabbage in the filling.  Overall these dumplings were a little bland and I ended up dunking them into the left over Szechuan chili oil and into the shrimp boil liquor to make them flavorful bites.

The Dipping Sauce:  The buns and the pan fried dumplings were served with pretty standard Chinese soy based dipping sauces.  But the shrimp boil liquor made a really unique and kick-ass dipping sauce.  Imagine a Cajun boil liquor with Szechuan influences that has been infused with shrimp as a dipping sauce for your pork dumplings and buns.  Amazing!  The mix of the Szechuan spice mash and chili oil was also a good choice for dipping the buns in.

The Location:  Flaming Kitchen is in Manhattan’s Chinatown on the Bowery between Grand and Hester Streets on the East side of the street.  It is a five minute walk from the Grand Street B/D subway station.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, Gyoza, New York City, Pan Fried, Pork, Potsticker, Sichuan Dumplings | Leave a comment

Daa! Dumpling, New York, NY

Pork filled and Potato filled Pelmeni

The TurnStyles underground shopping and food arcade at Columbus Circle has blossomed into a hopping venue that reminds me of the great underground arcades attached to subway stations in Seoul and Tokyo.  There are several options for dumplings in the arcade and I recently tried Daa! Dumplings which sells Russian style dumplings known as pelmeni.  These dumplings are related to Ukrainian varenyky and Polish pierogi, but with pelmeni the dumplings are smaller and the dough is rolled as thin as possible such that the proportion of filling to dough is usually higher.  Also, pelmeni are usually stuffed with raw filling before they are cooked, while the fillings of vareniki and pierogi are typically precooked before the dumplings are boiled.  In Siberia, pelmeni were traditionally frozen outdoors in the winter and treated as a preserved food that could be easily cooked by boiling them in salted water.

Prior to opening up a permanent spot at TurnStyles Daa! Dumplings had built a following doing popups at Urban Spaces markets and has gotten some good reviews in the NYTimes and IN New York,

Pork Pelmeni

The Dumplings:  Daa! Dumplings sells snack orders with 12 pelmeni and meal orders with 18 pelmeni and they have Pork, Beef, Veal, Chicken, Shredded Beef and Pork, Potato, and Cabbage as filling options.  For each order you can choose two styles of dumpling.  The pelmeni are served brushed with butter and with chopped herbs scattered on top.  They also sell 2lb bags of frozen Pork or Chicken pelmeni for $13 a bag.

The Pork pelmeni are small ball shaped dumplings with very thin wrappers that didn’t stay intact through the boiling process.  The pork filling was tasty with a flavor profile that was slightly different from Asian style pork dumplings.  There were no soy and sesame oil notes and more black pepper and herbal aromatics, likely chopped garlic and onion which most recipes on the Web include in the filling mix.  I enjoyed these dumplings, BUT as someone who is allergic to chicken and is also a committed pork-aterian, I was pissed to discover after eating these pelmeni that Daa! Dumpling mixes chicken into the pork filling  – they need better ingredient labeling on their menu.

Potato Pelmeni

The Potato pelmeni are larger than the Pork ones and have the crescent, half-moon shape of Pierogis or Guo Tie, but are smaller than the Pierogi served at the Ukrainian and Polish restaurants in the East Village.  The dough wrapper was thicker than with the pork ones and had a slight chew to it, which was good with the buttery mashed potato filling.  I really enjoyed these dumplings.

Dipping Sauce: There are four sauce options; sour cream which is free, and Adjika Tomatoes, Sweet Peppers and Mustard Mayo which each cost an additional 25 cents. I tried the Adjika sauce which is a thick, mildly spicy tomato based sauce which is usually made with red peppers, garlic, herbs and spices.  This sauce went really well with the potato pelmeni.

The Location:  The TurnStyle underground arcade is beneath 8th avenue between 57th and 58th streets at the intersections of the Hell’s Kitchen, Lincoln Center and Midtown neighborhoods.  Daa! Dumplings is more or less midway between 57th and 58th streets.

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Lucky Pickle, New York, NY

Pork Dumplings with Curry – see how none of the curry sauce clings to the wonton.

The Upper West Side of Manhattan is experiencing a Chinese food renaissance and the dumpling competition has become fierce.  Jacob’s Pickle has a great reputation for pickles and built upon that reputation by opening Maison Pickle. With the new Lucky Pickle they have expanded into the local dumpling scene, unfortunately their dumpling game is no where near as strong as their pickle game.  It also turns out their noodle game isn’t as strong as their pickle game.  The Cold Noodles in Sesame Sauce was meh tasting, the noodles had the texture of store bought dried spaghetti and the sauce was thin and watery.  All the online articles and press describe Lucky Pickle’s menu as being inspired by the owner’s experiences eating street food in Hong Kong but somehow that experience got watered way down in its translation to the Upper West Side.  A dozen places selling way better noodles and dumplings can be found less than a mile north and great dim sum can be found six blocks south of Lucky Pickle.

Lucky Pickle has shared table seating for about 15 people and you order and pay via wall mounted touch screens. Eating food right after touching a screen that 1,000s of other people have touched has a certain gross factor for me.  The other weird thing about the experience is that despite the small foot print and automated ordering and paying, I counted six employees hanging around the tiny space.

The Dumplings: Lucky Pickle serves Vegan dumplings in vegetable consomme, Chicken dumplings in countryside broth, Pork dumplings in 5 spice broth, Shrimp and Pork dumplings in 5 spice broth and Shrimp dumplings in ginger butter sauce.  It appears that all their dumplings are actually wontons served in a cardboard tub of broth.  One thing I did like about Lucky Pickle was that their menu is very clear in indicating which items are vegan (Vegan dumplings, Cold Sesame Noodles, The Lucky Pickle, and the Steamed Spinach).

Vegan dumplings in consomme

Vegan dumpling

Vegan dumplings with consomme – these wontons were served sitting in a decent tasting, but murky looking vegetable broth.  This dish is clearly misnamed, consomme is supposed to be a light, clear broth that has been clarified to remove fat and sediment, this soup was not that.  The wontons were stuffed with finely chopped, unidentifiable veggies that lacked any real flavor or texture. The wontons were over cooked and the very thin wrappers began to tear as soon as I touched them with the chopsticks.

Curry Pork Dumplings – these wontons were served in a thin, watery “curry” sauce that lacked any real curry flavor and just had a modest spice heat from some chili oil in the sauce.  Thankfully the pork wontons were not overcooked like the veggie ones, but they were close to flavorless and had no appreciable seasoning.  The wontons were garnished with green scallion stalks which was the most flavorful element of the dish.

Dipping Sauce:  Lucky Pickle focuses on wontons served in broth, so there are no side dipping sauces.  With two of the three dishes I tried the sauces and broths were really thin and watery.

The Location:  Lucky Pickle is on Amsterdam Avenue between 84th and 85th streets in Manhattan’s Upper West Side neighborhood.  This is the home base of the Jacob Pickle mini-empire, Jacob Pickle is 2 doors down the avenue and Maison Pickle is a five minute walk away.  But the Upper West Side is experiencing a Chinese food renaissance and the dumpling competition is fierce, there are more than a dozen places within a mile of Lucky Pickle that are producing better dumplings.

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Dorjee Momo, Washington DC

This week we have a guest review from Washington, DC, for Dorjee Momo.

Lamb Momo

A short stroll from the U.S. Capitol, a refugee chef has set up shop cooking a personal ode to Tibet.  Housed on the second floor of a bagel store, Dorjee Momo pop-up offers hot pots (by reservation only), and a small selection of plant-based and animal-based dishes.  Me, I go for the lamb momos.  Six pan fried dumplings dressed with 21-spice sepen, a thick Tibetan pepper paste tinged with Szechuan peppercorn.  For our vegan friends, try the Sunflower Buns, stuffed with a mix of spinach, glass noodles, tofu, mustard oil and topped with a basil-cilantro sauce.  Dorjee Momo is open Thursdays-Sundays at the Bull Frog Bagel Shop near Eastern Market through late summer 2018.

Postscript – I checked out Chef Dorjee’s story on the restaurant’s website and it is pretty amazing.

Sunflower Bun

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Vegan Beef and Leek Dumplings in Lemongrass Consumme

Vegan beef and leek dumplings in lemongrass consumme

For this dish I used the consumme recipe from Tal Ronnen’s cook book The Conscious Cook and used my recipe for vegan beef and leek dumplings, which uses Gardein beef-less tips.  Ronnen is the founder and chef of the high end plant-based, Crossroads restaurant in LA, which gets rave reviews and his cook book is a best seller.

The consumme is quite spicy, driven by the chilis, ginger and pepper corns, and works really well with the beef and leek filling in the wontons.  Get the consumme going and then as it simmers make the dumplings following my recipe.  Once you have completed the simmering of the consumme and strained the solids from the liquid, bring the consumme back to a boil and add in the dumplings.  Cook the dumplings for about ten minutes until they are floating in the consumme.  I poured the consumme over some cubes of semi-firm tofu for added protein and then added slivers of scallions for garnish.

The consumme recipe is

— sea salt
— 2 tablespoons canola oil
— 4 stalks lemongrass
— 2 stalks celery, diced
— 1 leek, thinly sliced
— 2 shallots, minced
— 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and diced
— 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
— 1 kaffir lime leaf
— 2 small dried red chilies
— 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
— 2 tablespoons sugar
— 2 quarts vegetable or faux-chicken stock

Place a large stockpot over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt and all of the ingredients except for the sugar and stock and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the sugar and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Pour the consomme through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the solids, and return to the pot.

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

Grain House, New York, NY

Last month the weird and excellent Coffee Break (aka Ten Ming Gong Zhe) closed and was replaced by an outpost of Queens’ Grain HouseCoffee Break served some of the best Sheng Jian Bao in the City and also had a spectacular Chinese sausage and cabbage fried rice.  But with the transition of Coffee Break to Grain House, the Upper West Side of Manhattan has gained some excellent Szechuan food.  The owner got his start operating a take-out restaurant catering to international students from China attending SUNY Stony Brook.  The take-out business did well enough that he brought on another chef from China and opened a full restaurant in Queens serving the Chinese immigrant community.  They decided to expand to the area just south of Columbia University because so many Columbia international students were traveling to eat at their restaurant in Queens.

Spicy and Numbing Wontons

The menu has a few American-Chinese dishes (see Sesame Chicken and General Tso’s Chicken), but also has a lot of traditional and regional Chinese dishes, doubtlessly for the international students.  I tried the Hot Spicy Jumbo Shrimp with Red Pepper, which were actually medium size shrimp served on an intimidating bed of red chili peppers with slices of garlic, onion, red and green bell peppers mixed in.  The shrimp tasted amazing with a complex flavor from the onion and garlic and I suspect cumin, and had a ton of spice that made my face sweat.

The Dumplings:  Once I got over my grief that I could no longer get Jian Bao at this location, I settled down and checked out their dumplings menu – Pot Stickers, Pork and Vegetable Dumplings, Pork Soup Dumplings, Chicken Dumpling, Pan Fried Pork Dumplings, Vegetable Dumplings, Pork Wonton in Spicy Sweet-Chili Oil, Crystal Shrimp Dumplings, and Spicy and Numbing Pork Wonton.

Pot-stickers

Pot StickersGrain House’s Pot Stickers are a pork dumpling that is first steamed and then pan fried on the bottom side. These dumplings were really juicy and tend to explode when you bite into them, I managed to spray my shirt sleeve with juice.  So treat these pot stickers like soup dumplings, bite a small hole in the wrapper and slurp the tasty juice out before you fully bite into the dumpling.  The filling had a really good salty, savory pork flavor.

Crystal Shrimp Dumplings

Crystal Shrimp Dumplings – as much as I enjoyed the Pot Stickers, the Crystal Shrimp dumplings were a disappointment.  The wrappers were well done – translucent, sticky, stretchy and slightly sweet – but the shrimp were flavorless.  Thankfully the shrimp and wrapper were absorbent so they served as a good sauce delivery vehicle.

Wonton covered in chili oil

Spicy and Numbing Pork Wonton – This wonton in red oil dish is served in a deep bowl with the wontons laying just below the surface of impressively/intimidatingly volcanic looking red chili oil.  When the waiter puts this dish in front of you it is like looking down into the lava filled crater at the top of Mount Doom in Mordor.  The wonton skins hugged the pork filling, forming crinkly, cauliflower head like shapes with lots of surface area for the sauce to cling to.  The filling was well seasoned and tasty but after one or two of these wontons all I could feel was spice heat.  This is a dish that fights back, but you keep wanting to go back for another sweaty round.  Based on the name of the dish I was expecting the oil to be seasoned with tingle and numbness inducing Szechuan pepper corns, which are usually used in Szechuan cuisine to balance out the spice.  But these pepper corns were not noticeably present in the bowl I was given.  Despite the lack of “numbing” this was a great bowl of wontons.

The Location:  Grain House is on Amsterdam Avenue between 105th and 106th street.  This area is experiencing a Chinese restaurant renaissance fueled by the international students at Columbia. Grain House only seats about 20 people, so if it is packed, as it was the last two times I tried to go, there are plenty of great options nearby (Happy Hunan Hotpot, Xi’an Famous Foods, Lava Kitchen, and see this map of all the nearby dumpling spots).

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