March 2, 2006

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Dumplings demystified
Comfort food and the small-plate craze in one neat bundle
By Susan Reilly  news@hippopress.com

We don’t have dumpling dens in these parts. Little hole-in-the-wall places found in big cities where a dollar will buy you five perfectly steamed dumplings. Meant to be eaten on the sidewalk out front, these dumplings are snacks for the masses, hearty and quick.

We do have an abundance of Chinese restaurants, though, all with dumplings on their menus as appetizers.

While the dumpling concept is simple, the fillings and styles are not. Unique and regionalized depending on the restaurant and the chef’s whim, what you order from one place will most certainly not be like what you order from somewhere else. But part of the fun is the surprise flavors all wrapped up in a neat little bundle and the spicy house sauce that typically comes with them.

“Dumpling” is a broad term. In Chinese cuisine it means a stuffed pocket of dough that is either steamed or fried. But the Chinese are not the only ones fond of these little treats.

You will find a dough pocket with a savory filling in most cuisines. Mexicans have the sopapillas; there’s also the Scottish meat pie, Polish pierogis, Indian samosas, Argentine empanadas and Italian raviolis, to name a few.

The Chinese have been eating dumplings since the 10th century. In the north of China, where the cuisine is Szechuan, Mandarin or Hunan, dumplings tend to be heartier, thicker-skinned and filled with spicy meats and root vegetables, reflecting the colder climate. Dumplings there tend to be served as one-course meals.

In southern China, the dumplings tend to be thinner-skinned as they are made of a rice noodle wrapper and often filled with seafood. This is the Cantonese style and in this region dumplings are regarded as a snack or dim sum or a side dish.

In any region, dumplings are comfort food.

North Garden on Mast Road in Manchester has conventional dumplings as appetizers and an extensive selection of dumplings on the dim sum menu. Owner Winnie Zeng says the dim sum dumplings are very popular.

“At first is was just Chinese looking for traditional dumplings. But lately Americans are catching on and coming in for dim sum. We are very busy,” she said.

Zeng says that making dumplings at home is laborious and most people don’t have the time, patience or equipment to do it.

“There is a lot of preparation and hand work with dumplings. Some dumplings steam for several hours. Most people find it is easier to go out to a restaurant and sample different flavors,” she said.

The North Garden kitchen staff, led by her husband Wei Wen Zeng, makes hundreds of dumplings twice a week.

“We grew up eating dumplings. It is a family thing. Now I see American families coming in and everyone gets to try something,” said Zeng.

North Garden’s menu offers the commonly recognized Peking Ravoli (6 for $4.75) either steamed or fried, and Shao Mai (6 for $4.50), steamed dumplings filled with pork and shrimp.

But the dim sum menu offers 26 different dumplings, ranging from steamed shrimp dumplings (4 for $3) and steamed buns with barbecued pork (3 for $2.40) to fried taro turnovers (3 for $2.40) and deep-fried sesame balls (3 for $2.40). North Garden has the most extensive dumpling menu in southern New Hampshire.

“My husband loves to eat, so he started cooking at age 16. He has been cooking for so many years that our food is very good,” said Zeng.

One of the most popular dumplings at North Garden is the traditional sticky rice (2 for $3.80), which is rice with meat and vegetables wrapped in a lotus leaf and steamed.

“People always ask about the lotus leaf. But it is the lotus leaf that keeps the rice moist and flavorful,” said Zeng.

Traditional Chinese dumplings cover a full range of flavors and textures, from fried and steamed to savory and sweet. Making a meal of dumplings, or enjoying them as a side dish, is a treat.

Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com  



Where to get them

North Garden
715 Mast Rd., Manchester, 668-1668
Dim Sum menu offered Sat., Sun. and Mon. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

Pete’s Dragon
259 Bridge St., Manchester, 644-1155
Shu Mais (5 for $5.75)
Peking Dumplings in house sauce (6 for $5.50)

Peking Garden
967 Elm St., Manchester, 623-8880
Peking pan-fried ravioli (6 for $4.95)
Shao Mai (5 for $3.50)

Pho’s Golden Bowl
124 Queen City Ave., Manchester, 622-2000
Peking ravioli (6 for $$4.50)

Dynamite Sushi
33 Lowell Rd., Hudson, 889-0055
Gyoza ($6.99 large), homemade fried or steamed dumplings
Shumai ($6.99 large), fried or steamed shrimp dumplings

Chen Yang Li
124 South River Rd., Bedford, 641-6922
or 337 Amherst St., Nashua, 883-6800
Yang Brothers Shao Mai ($5.95)

San Francisco Kitchen
133 Main St., Nashua, 886-8833
Steamed shrimp dumplings (6 for $6.95)
Pan fried potstickers (10 for $5.95)

Silver Maple Restaurant
356 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack, 429-1688
Shao Mai (6 for $5.25)
Peking ravioli (6 for $5.25)
Vegetable dumplings (6 for $4.75)
Szechuan dumplings (6 for $4.75)

Golden Palace
321 Nashua St., Milford, 673-1323
Peking ravioli (20 for $$5.95)


Dumplings lingo

Peking Ravioli (or potstickers): Pan-fried on the bottom and then steamed and served with the pan-fried side on top. Crescent-shaped wrappers with pleated edges. Originally made with pork, now anything goes.
Shao Mai: a soufflé-like steamed dumpling made with pork and shrimp, shaped like a pouch or cup.
Gyoza: a Japanese dumpling
Mandu: Korean dumpling commonly filled with kimchi, vegetables and pork.


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