Last weekend we crossed the border into our neighboring country to the north, Canada! Not only do they have public health care, they have delicious and authentic Chinese cuisine. I’ve been deprived and starved in the Mid West of good Chinese food. It is extremely hard to find a quality restaurant in Chicagoland that is not titled with something like “Thai, Sushi, and Stir Fry” or “Tokyo, Shanghai, Bangkok”. I love the idea of fusion cuisine, but just trying to mash Asian or “Oriental” foods all on one menu disappoints me greatly. Even calling food “Chinese” does not provide it with enough justice. There are so many different areas / provinces with extremely different flavors, techniques, and food cultures to try to categorized them all into one word. We were fortunate to experience one of my favorite kinds of Chinese food while visiting my Aunt and cousin in Toronto. My mother’s family is from Northern China, where baos and dumplings trump rice, and I have inherited those taste buds 3 generations in. Anything wrapped and steamed in dough, sweet or savory, or just the bread itself brings me home.
Tucked in a strip mall in suburban Toronto is Ding Tai Fung, the famous dumpling house that started in Taiwan but now has restaurants in many major cities around the world. The signature dish is xiao long bao, or steamed pork dumplings (“little dragon buns”). Now these are not your Ling Ling dumplings that you find in bulk at Costco. They are little purses of juicy meatiness. The wrapper is extremely thin and shaped like a mini bun with a little hole on top to let some steam out while cooking. The amazing part is the juice inside. Some people call these soup dumplings because there is a little puddle of meat juice that if you are not careful will squirt all over your shirt once you bite into it. I have no idea how these are made and I hear that it’s more of an art than skill and cannot be replicated with machines (that is why they have so many dumpling makers employed). So, being able to savor these little bites of heaven is a privilege to this adopted Mid Westerner. Thanks Toronto and Little Aunt and Cousin Karen for satisfying my taste buds! I can’t wait to taste these in Taiwan soon!
I was too busy eating to take a picture of the xiao long bao, so here’s a picture from Not Quite Nigella