Atlas Obscura article on Crab Rangoon

I just recently discovered Atlas Obscura and have been reading the articles like crazy.  My Google news feed originally clued me in when the algorithm suggested an article entitled  “What the Heck Is Crab Rangoon Anyway?” and from there I was sucked down the rabbit hole.  The article on Crab Rangoon is excellent and traces the origin of Crab Rangoon back to Trader Vic’s, and the post-war Tiki craze.  Crab Rangoon is a deep fried wonton wrapper stuffed with cream cheese and crab meat and served with a syrupy, neon colored sweet-and-sour dipping sauce.  The dish appears to have been invented from whole cloth by the owner of Trader Vic’s as a imagined Polynesian appetizer.  My favorite Crab Rangoon are from The Real Le Anh Chinese Food cart on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania

The article also places Crab Rangoon within American-Chinese cuisine. The article describes American-Chinese cuisine as resulting from the exclusionary immigration laws that sought to keep Chinese immigrants out of the U.S. but that had a loop-hole that allowed for “merchant visas”.  In 1915 a court ruled that restaurant owners qualified for merchant visas providing a route for Chinese immigration to the U.S.  American-Chinese cuisine took on its familiar form, in part, because many ingredients that were expensive in China were cheap in America, and vice versa. Oil for deep frying, sugar and chicken were cheap while ingredients like Szechuan peppercorns were hard to source.

Atlas Obscura also has a really good article on Kimchi and the practice of families putting aside a weekend or two in November or December to make industrial quantities of kimchi.

Posted in Amherst, Crab Rangoon, News, Philadelphia | Leave a comment

Tim Ho Wan, New York, NY

Har Gow

Billing itself as the world’s cheapest Michelin Starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan is an international chain of dim sum restaurants.  The first location in Hong Kong earned a star in 2010 and has kept it for the pas 9 years, three of the subsequent locations in Hong Kong also earned Michelin stars.  However, I don’t think the location in New York’s East Village is going to earn a star, it was really good, but the restaurant had not even earned an A rating on New York City’s restaurant inspection grading report card.  I don’t usually eat at B graded restaurants, but I didn’t see the grade card until I left the restaurant.  There are now 47 locations worldwide and in 2018 the chain was bought out by a venture capital fund, so I expect the expansion will accelerate.

Pork and Shrimp Shumai

At the East Village location the dim sum is not served from roving cards pushed around the restaurant.  Instead the place mats are covered with pictures of the food which are labelled with letters and numbers and serve as the menu. You order by reading the place mat and then filling out a card indicating how many servings of each dish you want.

There were a few specials available and we tried the fish ball and quid in curry sauce, usually one of my favorite dishes.  The version at Tim Ho Wan was not great, the curry sauce was thin and very mild, the squid was over cooked beyond rubbery and body pieces were not edible and the dish came with large pieces of tripe, which was not mentioned in the description of the dish.  Thankfully the dumplings were really good.

BBQ Pork Buns

BBQ Pork

The Dumplings:  While I thought the menu was a little sparse compared to other dim sum places I frequent (XO Taste, XO Kitchen, Veggie Dim Sum), Tim Ho Wan has a good selection of dumplings and buns.  Their BBQ Pork buns are not the traditional steamed white bread buns with pink pork breaking through the top, but rather, look like a baked desert bun.  They are also not the gut filling size of a traditional steamed bun, they are smaller and come three to an order.  But most importantly the buns were delicious, and were packed with sweat BBQ pork and lots of tangy BBQ sauce.

Probably though, the standout for the night were the shrimp Har Gow, they were so good we ended getting four orders of them.  The rice dough wrappers were tightly wrapped around coarsely chopped, super fresh, sweet tasting shrimp.  One of the things I appreciated about the service was the speed with which they were getting food from the steamers to the table.   When Haw Gow sit for even a little while after coming out of the steam the rice dough gets sticky and gummy, these ones still had all their steamed heat and were slippery and supple.  My dining companions with weaker chop stick skills had a hard time holding onto the Har Gow.

Fried Pork Dumplings

I was warned by a friend that the Shumai are not the strongest option at Tim Ho Wan, but I thought they were quite good, in fact we got two orders of them.  They were filled with more of the sweet tasty shrimp mixed with savory pork, and once again got to our table immediately out of the steam.  The last dish we tried was the fried pork dumplings, which arrived on the table looking like goose eggs.  These dumplings are deep fried so the rice flour wrapper develops an out layer of crispiness and the dumpling balloons out into an egg shape. I though these dumplings had a really nice balance, the wrappers were slightly sweet and the pork filling was salty and savory and the wrappers were both crispy and chewy.  These dumplings were a contender with the Har Gow for best dumplings of the night.

The Location:  Tim Ho Wan is on the Western edge of New York’s East Village neighborhood, on fourth avenue at the corner of 10th street.  It is conveniently close to Union Square, New York University and the L train stops.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, Crystal Shrimp, Dim Sum, Har Gou, New York City, Pork, Shrimp, Shumai, Steamed | Leave a comment

Vegan Shiitake Wonton Soup

Shiitake wonton soup

I have been meaning to try making Connoisseurus Veg’s Vegan Shiitake Wonton Soup recipe for a while now and finally found time to try it this weekend.  The recipe calls for filling the wontons with raw diced shiitake, ginger, garlic and scallion, but I find that putting raw ginger into a dumpling filling can create a harsh flavor. So I sauteed the ginger and garlic in canola oil, let it cool for a while and then mixed in the diced mushroom and scallions so they were coated with the ginger and garlic. The broth is very straight forward to make but the ginger flavor was too intense for me, I would recommend using half of the ginger the recipe calls for and doubling the rice vinegar.  One key trick for this recipe is to bring the broth to boil so the flavors come together and then turn the burner down so the broth comes to a simmer before you add the wontons; a vigorously boiling broth will cause the wontons to break apart.

Posted in Recipe, Soup, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings, Wontons | Leave a comment

Nitemrkt’s “Bag the Bao” Video

I ran across Nitemrkt’s dumping-tastic rap video “Bag the Bao” on Eater.  Nitemrkt raps in Mandarin, Cantonese and English and the video, features crave inducing imagery of sheng jian bao, barbecue pork buns, soup dumplings, Sesame balls and stuffed breads.  Eater explains that Nitemrkt uses bao “as both imagery and metaphor for staying on the grind, accumulating wealth, moving on up in the world”. Nitemrkt says the song is a tribute to confidence and culture. “It’s a twist on the idea of ‘secure the bag’ or ‘get the bag,’ updated for a 2019 global Asian audience”.  The rap is pretty catchy but the video takes it to 11.

Posted in Bao, News, Sheng Jian Bao, Soup Dumpling, Xiao Long Bao | Leave a comment

Dumpling Shack, London UK

Vegan Dumplings in Soy and Garlic dressing

Dumpling Shack, at the Old Spitalfields Market, serves a Chinese street-food menu of dumplings and noodles.  It is a small stall with room for about three employees to rapid fire serve dumplings to the throngs who lunch at the Market.  Everything is served to-go, in small cardboard bowls and you have to compete for a seat at the long shared tables around the Kitchen area of the market.  The stall’s owner launched Dumpling Shack as a weekend hobby while he was working at a bank and in the years since Dumpling Shack has won several “best of “ awards (here, here, here) and gotten raves for its Shanghai style Sheng Jian Bao.

The Dumplings:  Dumpling Shack serves Pork and Leek Pan Fried Soup Dumplings, Prawn Wontons in Chilli Oil, Boiled Vegan Dumplings in Soy Garlic Dressing and Tianjin Prawn Wonton Soup.  Dumpling Shack is renowned for its Shanghai Sheng Jian Bao, listed on the menu as Pork and Leek Pan Fried Soup Dumplings, but I think the Boiled Vegan Dumplings in Soy Garlic Dressing deserve much more media attention than they have been getting.  The vegan dumplings were really flavorful and filled with vermicelli glass noodles, celery, carrot, shiitake mushroom and tofu and the chopped celery gave these dumplings a really nice crunch texture.  Combined with the tasty soy and garlic dressing this is an excellent plate of dumplings.

I of course tried their famous Sheng Jian Bao, which were as excellent as everyone else has described online.  Dumpling Shack pan fries these buns knot side down which is a little unusual, but provides more dough surface area to be crispy fried.  They make their buns with lots of soup and an exceptionally flavorful and savory pork filling.  One issue I had with Dumpling Shack is that they didn’t have soup spoons, which, similar to when eating soup dumplings, are really needed for the optimal eating of Sheng Jian Bao.

The Location: Dumpling Shack is in the Kitchen section of Old Spitalfields Market, which is a cluster of stalls selling international street food.  To get to Spitalfields Market, take the tube to Liverpool station and walk a few blocks east along Brushfield street.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, Pork, Shanghai, Sheng Jian Bao, Soup Dumpling, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggie Dumplings | Leave a comment

Murger Han, London, UK

Pork Dumplings in spicy and sour soup., with lots of seaweed floating on the top of the soup.

Northwestern Chinese Xi’an style restaurants and food trucks are widely available in NYC, in a large part due to the excellent Xi’an Famous Foods, but there seem to be very few Xi’an style restaurants in London. One that I did find was Murger Han near Euston station, which has a sister restaurant, Murger HanHan in Mayfair.  The restaurant is named for Roujiamo sandwiches, the popular street food from the Shaanxi Province.  Roujiamo are usually described as the Chinese equivalent of the Western sandwich, but given that the baijimo bread originated in the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC) and the meat filling in the Zhou dynasty (1045-256 BC), the roujiamo is probably the ur sandwich.  Baijimo is reminiscent of a toasted English muffin and is made of a wheat flour dough with yeast and is traditionally baked in a clay oven.  The meat filling is pork, beef or lamb which has been stewed for hours with spices and seasonings and is chopped up before being put inside the bread.

Murger Han is a pretty small restaurant that probably seats 20 people.  The wait staff were very quick to take our order, and my friend’s cold noodles arrived right away, but my dumplings took a painfully long time to arrive.

The Dumplings:  Xi’an cuisine is known for its variety of noodles, but dumplings served in soup are also popular.  Murger Han has only one dumpling offering, pork dumplings in spicy and sour soup. The soup was quite spicy but didn’t have much of the sour vinegar flavor that Xi’an soups are known for and lacked the complexity and punch of the soup at Xi’an Famous Foods. The dumplings were well seasoned and quite flavorful, and the dough wrapper was perfectly thick enough to absorb some flavor from the soup without getting water logged. Despite Shaanxi Province being pretty far from the ocean, the soup had lots of seaweed (that is the black you see in the photo) and dried tiny shrimp in it.  I think the intent of these elements was to add umami to the soup, but they really needed to focus on bringing more sour to the mix.

Given the paucity of restaurants in London serving Xi’an style food, Murger Han is a good place to go to if you are craving this style of food, but I don’t think it is on par with the options in NYC.

The Location:  Murger Han is alongside the Euston tube and rail station on Eversholt Street near University College London (aka UCL).  It is pretty convenient to get to from anywhere in Central London.

Posted in Pork, Shrimp, Soup, Wontons | Leave a comment

Leong’s Legend, London, UK

Pork and Prawn Wonton

Leong’s Legends Continue has been my go-to restaurant in London’s Chinatown for years, so I was sad to see the “Permanently Closed” tag for it on Yelp.  Thankfully though, the restaurant has merely moved around the corner onto the main drag of Chinatown and slightly rebranded as Leong’s Legend. They have kept their Shaw Brother’s classic kung fu movie tavern décor from the old location. You almost expect to see Ti Lung or Lau Kar-leung eating dim sum or Yuen Siu-ten sitting at a table nursing a wine gourd. Apparently, the Legend in question refers to the Chinese novel Water Margin.

On this trip I only had time to drop in for a quick snack and grabbed some Pork and Prawn Wonton in Spicy Sauce.   This was my first time having this dish at Leong’s and I was expecting a spicy sesame/peanut sauce or red spicy sesame oil, but instead it was a soy based sauce with sweetened vinegar and very little spice heat.  It wasn’t what I was expecting but the wontons were perfectly formed and sauce was exceptionally tasty, to the point where I was drinking the sauce with a soup spoon.  The wontons were garnished with little chips of deep fried garlic, which provided a flavor zing and crunch that I really enjoyed. If you are looking for hot spicy wontons this is not the dish for you, but otherwise this is an excellent snack or starter.

Posted in Pork, Shrimp, Wontons | Leave a comment

Return to Tipsy Shanghai, New York NY

After enjoying Little Alley, but not getting the full soup filled experience from their Sheng Jian Bao, I was craving these pan fried buns and so a few days latter headed back to Tipsy Shanghai.  In my prior review of Tipsy Shanghai I referred to their amazing pan fried pork buns as Sheng Jian Bao.  But on this visit I realized the menu lists them as Pan Fried Pork Xioa Long Bao. and after a second try, I think they might actually be their Xioa Long Bao served pan fried.  The wrappers were incredibly thin and didn’t have the semi-leavened, slightly fluffy, bun texture of true Sheng Jian Bao.  But where ever they fall within the ontology of pork buns, Tipsy Shanghai’s Pan Fried Pork Xioa Long Bao are excellent, full of tasty pork and ginger soup and a delicious meat ball.

For this outing I also tried their wonton soup which takes them 20 minutes to prepare.  This big bowl of near clear soup had six large pork wontons and was garnished with bok choy and strips of egg omelette.  After the bold flavors of the pan-fried buns my initial reaction was that the wontons and the soup were really bland.  But after I cleared my palate with some Tsingtao beer, I could appreciate the delicate, crisp flavors of the soup and wontons.  The wontons were filled with a generous serving of pork, flavored with dried shrimp and vegetables.  This is not a big flavor dish, but was quite enjoyable and would be really welcome on a cold day.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, New York City, Pan Fried, Pork, Shanghai, Sheng Jian Bao, Soup Dumpling, Wontons, Xiao Long Bao | Leave a comment

Little Alley, New York, NY

Pork Potsticker

Little Alley, takes its name from the Shanghai “Long Tang” neighborhoods of Chef Yuchun Cheung’s youth, and is dedicated to the cuisine of Shanghai.  Long Tang are narrow, interconnected mazes of alleyways that form neighborhoods unique to old Shanghai, but are now disappearing as the city modernizes and gentrifies.   Chef Cheung is an alum of the excellent China Blue (and here) in Tribeca and, in his dedication to Shanghaiese cuisine, claims to have a kitchen staff made up of only Shanghaiese locals.

With a history of over 400 years, Shanghai cuisine is the youngest among the ten major cuisines of China.  The cuisine is known for its “red stewing” technique which involves heavily-seasoned proteins which are first browned and then cooked low and slow for hours.  At Little Alley this technique is used for several dishes, including the Dong Po Pork belly dish and the Lion’s Head Meatball, which is prepared Scotch Egg style with a salted duck egg in the middle.

The Dumplings:  Little Alley offers 9 dumpling varieties of which we tried five.  The thing that connected a lot of the dumplings we tried was Little Alley’s expert use of ginger.  Too many places use ginger in their dumplings filling that is under-cocked and creates a harsh, sometimes metallic flavor.  Here the ginger is well cooked, which tones down its harsh edges but still leaves ginger notes infused into the meat.

The Crab Soup Dumpling are filled with pork, crab meat, ginger, oyster oil, and sesame oil and were very well prepared and flavorful, but I was hoping for more soup than was packed into these dumplings.  I was also hoping for bigger flavor contribution from the crab. The Pork Potstickers, filled with pork, Chinese vegetables (the menu doesn’t say which one), ginger and oyster oil, were very flavorful and juicy and had a wrapper thickness perfectly in proportion to the size of the filling.  There was just the right amount of chew from the wrapper dough.  The Pan Fried Buns, filled with pork, ginger, oyster oil and sesame oil, were delicious with caramel notes from the bronzed/blackened bottom surfaces of the buns. But despite their excellent flavor, I am always disappointed when there is no soup in these buns, and Little Alley’s Pan Fried Buns were soup free. The Shanghai Shu Mai however were perfect pockets of umami infused dirty rice.  The Shanghai style of Shu Mai uses sticky dirty rice and flakes of Chinese sausage as the filling, and Little Alley adds bamboo shoot, Shiitake mushroom, and oyster oil to the traditional mix.  I think Little Alley nailed it with their Shu Mai.  Last, we tried the Vegetable Postickers, which, like the Pork Potstickers, could have used a little more time on the griddle getting seared and crispy fried.  These mouse shaped dumplings were filled with wild greens, bok choy, and Shiitake mushrooms.  The flavor of the wild greens was hauntingly familiar but I couldn’t quite place, it was a deja vu moment for sure. I liked the flavor of these dumplings a lot and had the sense they were packed with nutrients.

The Location:  Little Alley is in the Murray Hill neighborhood which is on the East side of Manhattan in the 30s and 40s, which is pretty much a pain to get to via subway.  It is on 3rd ave between 36th and 37th streets.

Posted in Bao, Buns, Chinese, Crab, New York City, Pan Fried, Pork, Potsticker, Shanghai, Sheng Jian Bao, Shumai, Soup Dumpling, Vegetarian, Xiao Long Bao | Leave a comment

Manti in Philadelphia

Spinach Manti with Yogurt Sauce has published a round-up of Philadelphia restaurants serving Manti, the small dumplings found in found in Turkish, Armenian, Uzbek, and other Middle Eastern and central Asian cuisines.  Apparently Middle-Eastern cuisine is ascendant as a food trend in Philadelphia and manti in many forms are being embraced.  Manti are usually served with a variety of sauces and garnishes including yogurt, spiced tomato sauce or infused oil, browned butter, a sprinkle of fresh mint or tangy sumac.  Last year I hit  Efes Mediterranean Grill in New Brunswick for their enjoyable spinach mandi which are served with a mild garlic yogurt sauce and melted butter seasoned with red pepper.  Wikipedia has an extensive discussion on the many forms of manti, their origins and possible links to Korean mandu, Chinese mantou, and Japanese manjū.

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