Ordering “dumplings” in China is like asking for “soda” in America. You’re going to need to be more specific, because these plump, gooey orbs offer vast differences in appearance, ingredients, texture, taste and name—from Shanghai’s famous soup dumplings to the northern bao variety and the pan-fried favorites down South. But in America—despite the tendency to lump all the varieties together and simply call them “dumplings—there's a growing love affair with the art of the dumpling. That means experimentation, cool fusions, fun ingredients and figurative artistry. Here’s where to enjoy America’s most creative dumplings.
Red Farm, New York City
Chef Joe Ng began honing his culinary skills at the age of 11 in Hong Kong. Now based in New York City, he’s a master of figurative dim sum (a.k.a. the ability to transform a dumpling into a character) and can plate more than 1,000 characters using different starches and fillings. Beloved for his Pac Man shrimp dumplings, he also does a crispy duck option in the shape of a skate fish. Expect a seasonally based menu here too. Right now, Owner Ed Schoenfield is flying in fresh, foraged French black truffles weekly for the soup dumplings.
Macao, New York City
Celebrating its eighth birthday in 2016, Macao also bucks tradition with its dumplings, opting for intensely rich pork belly ground with chicken thighs. Added to that are shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts, scallions, Napa cabbage, ginger, soy, sesame oil and black pepper. The chef’s favorite are the handmade vegan dumplings, made with purple savoy cabbage, carrots, snow peas, mushrooms, ginger, scallions, bok choy and jabchae Korean sweet potato, and served in a vegetarian mushroom-based oyster sauce.
Ninebark, Napa, CA
The chicken and shrimp dumplings here are served with a roasted chicken gravy, earning a three-star review from San Francisco Magazine. For chef Matthew Lightner, the idea is elevate Asia’s common street food to a brighter, more upscale level. “I wanted to maintain that level of casualness and approachability because it has such a positive association,” he says, “but I also wanted to introduce people to flavors that perhaps were a bit more surprising in the context of dumplings.” He's succeeding: SF Magazine's review cheekily described them as tasting “more like hearty sausages—their heritage Hamburg, not Shanghai.”
Mimi Cheng’s, New York City
The most common words on the blackboard here are organic, pasture-raised and sustainable. The Taiwanese-American sisters who own this restaurant are not afraid to experiment or collaborate. “We’ve done shrimp dumplings, sourcing the meat from Luke’s Lobster,” says co-owner Marian Cheng. “And one of our bestsellers was a collaboration with Emily, a Brooklyn restaurant famous for the Emmy Burger. Our dumpling version was dry-aged ground beef, aged cheddar, caramelized onions and the signature Emmy sauce.” On the current menu is the chicken pot pie pan-fried dumpling, with rich heavy cream, organic chicken, fresh carrots, caramelized onions, celery, peas, cremini mushrooms and thyme.
Peking Tavern, Los Angeles
Co-owner Andrew Chiu says his staff uses "dough that’s handmade from scratch, every day.” You can watch the dumpling artists through a picture window as they create their signature styles, like the award-winning boiled Sichuan fish dumpling with fresh basil and a red garlic sauce. Another favorite: the New Zealand lamb pot stickers, inspired by the time Chiu and his business partner lived in Beijing. “There’s a Muslim minority group in Central China who sell amazing lamb skewers on the street," says Chiu. "Our pot stickers are an ode to those." Chiu adds cumin spice to the dumplings, to replicate the taste of the memorable ones he ate there.
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