Din Tai Fun, Seattle, WA

photo jul 29, 12 49 14 pm

Dumpling production

The third floor food court of downtown Seattle’s Pacific Place mall hosts an outpost of the Taiwanese soup dumpling chain Din Tai Fun.  The entrance to the restaurant features a wall of windows that look in on the dumpling production line.  It is pretty impressive with about 20 people in chef whites and face masks continuously stuffing and folding dumplings.   This location has as long a wait as any of the others, but there is a Mexican cantina styled restaurant and a brewery pub on the same floor, so you can get a drink while you are waiting for the text message saying your table is ready.  Compared to some other locations, particularly in LA where you have to wait in a parking lot, this set-up works really well – you can grab a pint of local Manny’s Pale Ale while you wait for dumplings.

photo jul 29, 1 26 02 pm

Pork Soup Dumplings

The Dumplings: I have long argued that Din Tai Fun’s soup dumplings are over rated, they are good but they are not the be all and end all of soup dumplings that many people claim they are.  Din Tai Fun chefs do produce consistently thin and supple dumpling wrappers that stretch to contain their soup and meat filling, but almost never rupture or leak and the dumplings have a generous helping of soup.  My critiques are that the dumplings are on the small side, the pork filling is a little bland and they don’t cook them to a high temperature.  On this last point, part of the mystique and savior faire of eating soup dumplings is the technique of biting into them and drinking the soup without scalding your face.  The lower serving temperature also means that soup changes flavor and consistency as they further cool once the steamer is opened.

photo jul 29, 1 34 46 pm

Wontons in Chili Oil

On this outing we also tried the Wontons in Chili Oli and the Sticky Rice Shu Mai.  The Wontons were disappointing, while the filling had an excellent balance of shrimp and pork that was more flavorful than the pork in the soup dumplings, the sauce was under spiced and over sweetened.  It had the American-Chinese flavor profile that holds back on the heat and flavor and amps up the sugar sweetness.  My two friends and I split one order of the wontons and weren’t inspired enough to eat all of them.   The Sticky Rice Shu Mai were Shanghai style shu mai which have a thicker wheat flour wrapper and are stuffed with sticky rice prepared with minced pork.  The rice filling is like a southern U.S. dirty rice and is usually quite flavorful.  The Din Tai Fun version had a great chew to it but was blander than other versions I have had.

photo jul 29, 1 37 29 pm

Sticky Rice Shu Mai

I keep trying out new Din Tai Fun locations, hoping that I experience what everyone else claims to love so much, but my verdict of “over rated” remains.

The Dipping Sauce:  One element of Din Tai Fun that I do appreciate is that, rather than delivering a house prepared black vinegar dipping sauce with the soup dumplings, they just bring a small dish of slivered ginger and you can prepare your own sauce using the bottles of vinegar and soy sauce and tub to chili oil that are on each table.  I don’t enjoy the intensity of the black vinegar so I like being able to mix my own sauce and control the mix of vinegar.

The Location:  The Pacific Place mall is a high end shopping center in downtown Seattle near the convention center and up the hill from Pike Place Market.  The top floor where Din Tai Fun is located has a selection of sit down restaurants, with a mix of international chains and outposts of local favorites.

Posted in Chinese, Seattle, Shumai, Sichuan Dumplings, Soup Dumpling, Wontons, Xiao Long Bao | Leave a comment

Don’t Eat at Henry’s Taiwan Kitchen, Seattle

Henry’s Taiwan Kitchen served me a bowl of raw pork wontons in chili sauce, and not initially realizing this I bit into one of them and the filling was cold, mushy and slimy. Disgusting. None of the other wontons in the bowl were even warm to the touch. May be this is some obscure, regional, artisanal Taiwanese preparation using super high grade pork that I have never heard of before? Nope, it turns out the chef forgot to cook them, and I am not sure how that is possible since that is an essential part of the job title. When I talked to the manager and asked him if I had just bitten into raw pork, he responded that he “did not know what they had served me”.

Nuff Said, do not eat at Henry’s Taiwan Kitchen in the University District, or probably any of the other locations.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

China Wok Express, Northampton MA

Spicy Fried Wontons

China Wok Express is a classic American-Chinese take-out joint incongruously housed in a building with a Swiss red roof chalet type thing going on.  I was there at lunch time and the place was jammed with people waiting for take-out or eating at one of its six tables and the phone was ringing off the hook. The restaurant seems to be active in the local community, one wall is papered in appreciation certificates from local organizations. If you eat-in, the food comes served on styro-foam plates, on red plastic trays, with plastic to-go packets of Chinese mustard, soy sauce and duck sauce.

The Dumplings:  China Wok Express sells steamed or fried dumplings, crab Rangoon and spicy fried wontons.  Unless I am craving some pork fried rice or pork lo mein I normally avoid American-Chinese take-out joints, but the listing of spicy fried wontons on the menu had caught my eye.  Unfortunately these pork wontons turned out to be pretty bad.  I think they must pre-fry a large batch of wontons and then when this dish is ordered they stir-fry the wontons in the spicy sauce.  What you get is fried wontons so saturated in sauce that they have lost their crunch and have taken on a thick leathery texture instead.  I only made it through about three of my order of twelve.  The sauce is quite good and I think they would have a fine dish if they boiled fresh pork wontons and served them in the sauce.

Steamed Pork Dumplings

The steamed dumplings are large, moon shaped dumplings filled with, as the guy behind the counter put it “basically just pork”, although there was a little bit of scallion in the filling too.  Typical of American-Chinese restaurants the wrappers were thick and sturdy, and slightly sweet.  The filling was serviceable, your basic mildly seasoned pork.  But these dumplings were actually very good when dipped in the sauce from the spicy fried wontons.  My advice is order the steamed pork dumplings and a side of the spicy sauce.

The Dipping Sauce:  The steamed dumplings come with a small plastic tub of soy based dipping sauce, but the tub is really too small to dip the large dumplings in.  The spicy sauce that comes with the wontons is a thickened soy sauce, maybe with some hoisin sauce mixed in, that is sweet and spicy, but less spicy than is suggested by its red color.

Location:  China Wok Express is on King Street, which is the commercial drag that heads north out of Northampton’s downtown.  Look for the building with the vaguely Swiss chalet style red roof, on the left as you drive away from Northampton.

Posted in Chinese, Pork, Wontons | Leave a comment

Otafuku Okinomi Sauce

Otafuku Okinomi Sauce comes in a squeeze bottle packaged in a plastic bag

Japan’s Otafuku Sauce Co., Ltd.’s Okonomi sauce has become my go-to condiment for pretty much everything.  It is particularly good drizzled on pan-fried vegetable or pork gyoza and with this sauce on board you don’t need a dipping sauce.

Okonomi sauce is part of the culinary family of “brown sauces” that includes HP Sauce, HP Fruity Sauce, Daddies Sauce, Takoyaki sauce, Bulldog Tonkatsu sauce and Worcestershire sauce, which may be the ur brown sauce.  Like all the “brown sauces” Okonomi sauce brings the umami, salty, tangy and sweet fruit flavors and is most similar to HP Fruity Sauce.  It is the heavier fruit profile that makes it an excellent accompaniment to pork dumplings.

Otofuku Okonomi sauce is made from vinegar, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (a source of MSG), apple juice, onions, tomato paste, yeast extract, spices, carrots, apple puree, prune paste, apricot puree, and dried sardine extract.  If you don’t have access to an Asian food market you can make a close approximation at home by mixing 3 tablespoons of ketchup, with 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and one tablespoon of soy sauce.  To make a vegan version use Annie’s Organic Worcestershire Sauce.


Posted in Dipping Sauce, Gyoza, Japanese, Pork, Recipe | Leave a comment

Bertagni’s Girasoli with Basil Pesto and Parmigiano Reggiano


Founded in 1882 in Bologna, Italy by Luigi Bertagni and his two brothers, Bertagni is the oldest filled pasta producer in Italy.  They began with tortellini and now along with a variety of tortellini, they produce fresh pasta, ravioli and girasoli that are sold in 45 countries on 5 continents. Apparently the Bertagni brothers were also innovators in preserving and packaging pasta for sale in grocers.  In early 2018 the company was bought by the Spanish food conglomerate Ebro Foods.

Bertagni’s Girasoli with Basil Pesto and Parmigiano Reggiano  caught my eye at Whole Foods.  Girasoli are a type of fresh filled pasta, similar to ravioli, but made in a round sunflower shape.  These Girasoli were excellent, I could distinctly taste both the Basil Pesto and the Parmigiano’s sharp, savory, nutty flavor.  I ate the Girasoli with a robustly flavored red sauce and some cheese, but this pasta can shine by itself and could be served with just some butter and olive oil and a little garlic.  This pasta is pretty delicate and easy to over cook, so use a low boil for only 3 of the 3-4 minutes recommended on the packaging.

Posted in Frozen Dumpling Review, Girasoli, Ravioli | Leave a comment

Golden China Restaurant, South Deerfield MA

Golden China Restaurant is a roadside American-Chinese joint in South Deerfield, MA. It serves up the American-Chinese greats like Beef and Broccoli, Cold Sesame Noodles and Chicken with Snow Peas, along with American fast-food like jumbo fried shrimp, fried chicken nuggets, fried chicken wings and french fries.

Fried Pork Dumplings

The Dumplings:  The appetizers section of the Golden China Restaurant has Crab Rangoon, steamed or fried pork dumplings and steamed or fried chicken dumplings.   The fried pork dumplings did not look that good when they arrived at my table, they appeared to have been deep fried to within an inch of their lives and looked like they had been flattened under a weight.  However they turned out to be delicious, the meat was well seasoned and flavored with finely chopped ginger and scallion slivers and had slightly sweet and savory notes.  And although the dumplings looked over fried, they did not taste of grease or burned wonton.  Golden China Restaurant makes its dumplings in house, but the pork dumplings were so uniformly filled, wrapped and pleated I was initially fooled into thinking they were factory produced.  If they could fix the presentation of the dumplings they would be excellent.

The Dipping Sauce:  Golden China serves a sweetened soy based sauce that has a pretty good chili oil kick.

The Location:  South Deerfield MA, is the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in the Pioneer Valley as you head North from Northampton to Vermont.  South Deerfield is a one Stop sign town with a lot of farm land around it.  Another spot to check out in South Deerfield is Wolfie’s Restaurant which has been family owned and operated for 40 years and is about 10 yards from Golden China Restaurant.

Posted in Ghetto Chinese, Pork, Potsticker | Leave a comment

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.

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

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).

Posted in Chinese, New York City, Sichuan Dumplings, Wontons | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Kubeh, Uncategorized, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment