And lo, the steam has risen.
So far, in the course of my travels, I have lived on fried dumplings: the crisp casing at Mimi Cheng’s; the pan-sizzled flatcake of Grunauer Bistro; the impeccable browned wrappers of East Wind Snack Shop. But a dumpling in oil faces the hazard being proclaimed great because of the nature of its beginnings. A great fried dumpling is great. A mediocre fried dumpling is still pretty good.
A dumpling without the trappings of long carbon chains to lift it? It is a more pure test of character; it is the dumpling equivalent of taking off the training wheels.
There are many ways one could cook a dumpling.
- One could fry it, obviously, or bake it.
- One could boil it.
- One could put it on a pizza.
- One could use a blowtorch.
- One could cover it in fruity alcohol and burn it.
- One could simmer it in a melange of peppers and chocolate syrup.
- One could pickle it?
- One could put it in a drip-coffee machine and both eat the dumpling and drink the resulting “Dumpling Infusion Water.”
- One could eat it raw.
Yet none of these may parallel the intensity and simplicity, the devotion and carelessness, the rip-roaring hell of a time and the domicile end-all-be-all, that is steaming a dumpling.
To steam is to let the dumpling be a dumpling. With steam, it is the minimal amount of heat and moisture needed to ensure concentrated cooking and coordinated flavor. It cooks through as one being, not as a separate filling and wrapper.
Here we arrive at Super Taste.
As you enter Super Taste, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, the light from outside is shaded by the posters on the windows and the awning. There are two rows of tables, on one each wall, with an aisle in the middle. A counter sits at the back with a window onlooking the goings-on of the kitchen.
I have spent so much time thinking about what a dumpling could be I had forgotten to study what a dumpling has to be. In architecture, I have heard, the simplest form of structure is the tent or the lean-to. It is just structure, just shelter. While buildings can be ornate, like the Sagrada Familia, or imposing, like the Burj Khalifa, a split-level ranch in Des Moines is also a building.
The beef dumpling at Super Taste is the simple structure of dumpling. The noodle is the roof and walls, the beef is the floors and light-fixtures, and the herbs are that little bit extra, like the paint and the windows. The vinegar is a few potted plants on the stoop. Cooked in steam, it is a perfect, no-other-adjectives, dumpling.
While we may marvel at skyscrapers and remain in awe of innovation, we enjoy returning home to our basic structures. (Unless you live in the Burj Khalifa.) I will eat dumplings that shatter ideas and shake-up the culinary context they were born into. But I know I will be back to Super Taste.
New Dumpling Ranking:
- East Wind Snack Shop
- Super Taste
- Grunauer Bistro
- Mimi Cheng’s