If the cook rolls out the dough just minutes after I place an order for Chinese dumplings, I’m sold.
The coriander and lamb dumplings at Dumpling Queen were squidgy little pockets of juicy lamb and coriander, tenderly sealed shut at one silky edge of the perimeter and bunched into a moist impressionable hump at the other.
Every pudgy crescent had the lovable imperfections of a handmade dumpling; a depression here, a bump there, its dough lips sealed into a soft but stern motherly smile that cautions the stuffing from tumbling out. I peered through the kitchen window as the ‘dumpling queen’ prepped the dough, staring greedily between threads of mango soaked in vinegar and tossed with a dangerous load of sliced chilies.
I’m back in International City. I’d never have believed it, but I think I’m actually starting to get an intuitive sense of how to reach places in the China Cluster. It’s not that some sort of urban planning logic has descended upon me. Rather, it’s like my once-messy room as a teenager – you just get accustomed to feeling your way around and instinctively knowing exactly where that pair of jeans is hiding under the mind-boggling mess.
Dumpling queen was next on my list of International City picks and made doubly worthy of a visit when Theresa vouched for their dumplings. With a grand total of 18 wooden chairs, Chinese girls puckering their lips during the cosmetic commercials running on a TV screen overhead, and the friendly server prancing between the kitchen and the tables in a dainty black tutu, I’ll say this place gets an A+ on eccentricity.
If you’re violently hungry, fussy about the order in which dishes arrive, and expect illuminating menu descriptions that tug at your stomach strings, steer clear of Dumpling Queen. This place is for those who are patient, who appreciate the concept of ‘slow food,’ and who can see the bright side of having the chef labour for a good twenty-five to thirty minutes over a plate of Indonesian fried rice – steeping it in a special sauce until it fully imbibes the flavours of soy and shrimp paste. When it arrives on your table after most of your meal is over, you have to be ready to enjoy the dish in isolation.
You have to be prepared to tumble through the warm earthiness of the rice, gluing the grains together with runny yolk and bits of white omelette, flecking them with a sauce that hints of peanuts, sugar and fermented soy paste, even ignoring them for a tantalizing second while you crunch through crisp prawn crackers and battered fish. I couldn’t imagine pairing this dish with anything else other than maybe, a very tentative maybe, crisp honey-sesame chicken. And that’s about it.
Dumpling queen has a neat list of stuffing permutations – lamb, beef, chicken and shrimp, some with carrots or coriander, others with onions or green chilli. But they have a menu beyond the dough that’s worth experimenting through until you can find the ones that make your chopsticks go wild. The silky tofu in oily meat broth was flavourful, but might not make it to my lunch list again. That’s a good thing because I have a whole host of other dishes from their menu that I’d like to try when I’m back.
There’s something about this place that works for me. Maybe it’s the understated vibe in an otherwise overstated city that I find refreshing. Refreshing enough where I’d be brave enough to venture out into that hairy scary maze which calls itself International City.
Location: China Cluster C-15. Check out my Google map for directions.