One of the coolest things about Golden Shopping Mall apart from all the delicious regional Chinese food is watching the ebb and flow of the various family run hawker stands. Over the six years I’ve been eating at the labyrinthine Flushing food court there have been stands that keep chugging along—Sichuan specialist Cheng Du Tian Fu and Nutritious Lamb Noodle Soup come to mind—and wild success stories like Xi’an Famous Foods.
Lately one of my favorite stands has been Tianjin Dumpling House. Back when I took Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert to the Golden Shopping Mall the most notable thing about the dumplings at what was then called Xie’s Home Cooking, or Xie Jia Tsai, was an off-flavor that Ripert said resembled cigarette ashes. About a year or so Xie’s was rebannered Tianjin Dumpling House. A menu boasting a dozen kinds of dumplings, including the amazing lamb and green squash, was added. And about two weeks ago things got real deep when my friend Helen rolled out a customizable dumpling menu. For a mere $5 a dozen (a buck extra for shrimp or fish) you can design your own dumplings, which are freshly made and steamed on the spot. Some folks—not me, mind you—might call them bespoke dumplings.
With eight types of protein including egg, lamb, and squid and 16 kinds of vegetables, including pumpkin and seaweed, the possibilities are almost endless. The first combo I tried carrot, lamb, and dill was a little disappointing because the shredded carrot hadn’t cooked all the way through. My second foray, however, was a great success. It shall forever be known as the day I invented the breakfast dumpling.
“You should add some pork to that,” Helen advised when I specified da hong cha, the kielbasa like big red sausage; egg; and cilantro. More pork with my pork sausage and egg dumpling, yes please. The perfectly steamed little packages were bursting with a magical mixture of egg, cilantro, and minced smoky sausage that tasted like the Platonic ideal of bacon and eggs.
In the cut-throat world of Chinese hawker stands where so many vendors rip each other off it’s refreshing to see something innovative and tasty emerge. It’s going to take a while to eat through all the permutations on Tianjin’s new dumpling menu. Perhaps I’ll try squid with chives and bok choy or maybe the stew like sounding beef and tomato with carrot. In all likelihood, though I’ll probably stick to breakfast.
Tianjin Dumpling House, lower level, Golden Shopping Mall, 41-28 Main Street, Flushing