Sunday, February 21, 2010

Playing Favorites: Soup Dumplings

My cousin Jennifer recently visited from Milwaukee and asked me a question that threw me for a loop. “What’s your favorite place to eat in New York?” Isn’t that like asking a mother to name her favorite child? She prodded, “Well, then, what’s one of your favorite kinds of food to eat here?” Ah, that made it easier. Soup dumplings! And the best place to eat soup dumplings in New York City is at Nan Shian Dumpling House in Flushing’s Chinatown.

A dumpling is worth its weight in dough, but a soup dumpling has the added burden of proving its broth is slurp-worthy. Nan Shian’s dumplings excel on both counts. The tender dumpling skins alone would make a delicious snack, but they’re also perfect vehicles for the kitchen’s savory golden broth. The soup strikes a perfect balance of flavor: not bland but not too salty, not watery but not greasy.

Last August, days before I had my daughter, Adeet, my parents, and I took the 7 train to Flushing for soup dumplings. The line at Nan Shian stretched out the door, but I decided to wait. A pregnant woman, especially one past her due date, does not enjoy standing. However, any discomfort I experienced during the wait dissipated with the steam escaping from the first bamboo basket of dumplings brought to our table. And the second basket and the third… Maybe soup dumplings would inspire my baby to make her long-awaited debut.

My parents needed a quick tutorial before eating their first soup dumplings. The rookie mistake is to put an entire dumpling in one’s mouth, which will lead to a burned tongue. Remember that the broth is inside the dumpling. It’s important to vent the dumpling by poking a hole in it with a chopstick or biting off a bit of dough at the top. You can then slurp the broth out of the dumpling. I usually hold my dumpling in my spoon to catch the broth, while Adeet picks up his plate and inhales any spilled liquid. Manners aren’t called into question. The only breach of etiquette would be letting soup go to waste. My parents quickly mastered the art of slurping.

I didn’t go into labor after that trip to Nan Shian, but I did go home very happy.

We hadn’t gone back to Nan Shian since I’d had the baby, and my cousin’s questions had made me hungry. So on President’s Day, Adeet hoisted the baby stroller onto the 7 train, and we took our daughter on her first trip to Chinatown. Once again the line at the dumpling house extended to the sidewalk. Adeet waited outside with the pram, while I squeezed into the restaurant’s narrow vestibule to listen for our turn to be called. I frequently had to flatten myself against the wall as a crush of would-be diners joined the queue. I gazed through the large window separating us from people with tables and eyed their dishes greedily. I wanted to ask them what they were eating. Maybe, I fantasized, they would offer me a taste. One table had ordered plates of long, crispy dough and what looked like an empanada. And almost all of the tables had baskets of dumplings.

I clutched a piece of paper stamped with a “3” and held it up hopefully when the hostess announced a number in Chinese. Success! Fortunately, the crowded restaurant has added another seating area since our last visit, and we were happy to find enough room for the stroller and for us in the new dining room.

As soon as our waitress came to our table, I told her we wanted two baskets of crab and pork dumplings (steamed buns). Then I quickly scanned the menu and impulsively requested an egg and chive fried bun. We waited and waited. And then a fried bun filled with scrambled eggs showed up and turned out to be the “empanada” I’d seen earlier. The hot, crispy pie unlocked my appetite and made me feel hungrier. We asked for some sweet sticky rice, but the waitress told us they had just sold out. Before I resorted to gnawing on my chopsticks, our dumplings arrived. Once again, they were worth the wait.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you visit Nan Shian. First, the restaurant’s name on the awning is in Chinese. Look above it to see a sign in English, or better, just spot the street number and the crowd of people. Be prepared to wait, both in line and after you order. It can take more than 20 minutes to get your dumplings, but know that you will be rewarded with a basket of exquisite steamed buns. Also, the service may seem rushed or even brusque, but the servers are not unfriendly. Pointing to the menu can resolve any miscommunications that might occur. And don’t be shy about slurping.

A few hours after this latest dumpling adventure, I saw my cousin again. She and her husband had also eaten soup dumplings for lunch but were not impressed. They’d gone to Joe’s Ginger in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Next time she should play (my) favorites!

Nan Shian Dumpling House
38-12 Prince Street • Flushing

photos by Adeet Deshmukh


komfo,amonan said...


neeta said...

my mouth is watering after reading this...have to try this out !

Jennifer said...

I'm so honored be mentioned in the Delikatessen...mmmmm - I miss New York!

Anonymous said...

kake, ?eres tu?
Julia Lieberman

Kate Deshmukh said...

Profesora Lieberman, si, soy yo! Perdone por no ver su pregunta antes ahora! Gracias por leer mi "blog" y espero que estemos en contacto pronto. --Kate