Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dumplings of Joy

My brother pretty much summed it up in a post about his first experience with soup dumplings in Shanghai: "As nice a husband as I am, if it came down to survival and that last xiao long bao could get one of us off the desert island alive, [my wife] may have regretted her marital choice. I'm talking not just dumplings here. I'm talking barely held together bundles of translucent doughy joy, filled with a dab of meat gelatin which melts upon steaming."

Since reading that I've had a serious longing, verging on jonesing, for one of those dumplings. I've had a few that came close to the transcendent experience I imagined, but they always somehow fell short. At one food cart, the soup had leaked out of several of them. At another place, the dough was too thick, and at a third the filling was a tasteless lump of some meat-like substance.

But today, today I finally had that experience I'd been waiting for, a xiao long bao worth singing about, and certainly worth going back for in the very near future.

Handmade noodles with beef.

I'd heard that Frank Fong, long famous for his handmade noodles at Du Kuh Bee in Beaverton, had recently taken over the late, unlamented location of Eagle Thai on NE Broadway. Retooling the interior and rechristening it Frank's Noodle House, he's featuring many of the Korean and Chinese dishes he was known for in Beaverton and adding a few new twists to the offerings.

I hope to explore more of his handmade noodle offerings on future trips, but at our lunch there my friend Ivy and I ordered two of his noodle dishes, which were toothsomely appealing, as well as a crispy-skinned fried mackerel that may well turn out to be another dish that will draw me back.

But I gotta tell you, it's those little dumplings of joy that are going to haunt my dreams for awhile. With enough structural integrity to contain the broth inside, the translucent wrapper is delicate enough to practically melt in your mouth when you bite into it. And the filling, a combination of tender ground pork and ribbons of greens, gives just enough heft to satisfy.

As my brother said after he had Frank's dumplings, "Mmmm-mmmmm."

Update, 10/11/10: I talked with Frank today and he said that his dumplings are not classic xiaolongbao, but are boiled dumplings. Though his eyes lit up when I said that XLBs are almost impossible to find here, and there's a huge pent-up demand for them. So if you go in, you might mention it…just in case he can be convinced!

Details: Frank's Noodle House, 822 NE Broadway. 503-288-1007.


Heather said...

Note taken! I love xiao long bao, too, and have similarly found the dumplings at That One Cart to be insipid. White men may be able to jump, but they should leave dumplings to the Chinese. Just sayin'.

kab said...

Give Frank's a try, I guarantee you'll be happier!

ann said...

I just got back from two weeks in China and Taiwan, where I basically lived on shui jiao (boiled dumplings)and have been craving them ever since. I'm going TOMORROW.
Thanks for the heads up!

kab said...

Let me know how they measure up, Ann!

thesharps said...

As a former SF Bay Area person who goes down there frequently, there are several sources for 'Shanghai Soup Noodle Dumpling' as us jumping white guys call xiao long bao. My favorite is Shanghai Dumpling King. The name says it all. Next time you're there, it is out on Balboa Street not far from the ocean. Looking forward to seeing how Frank's compare.

kab said...

Again, get back to me when you've been. And I promise I'll try to get by Shanghai Dumpling King next time I'm in SF!

Ivy said...

haunting dumpling love

Anonymous said...

I had great soup dumplings in Shanghai in August at the bare-bones Simon's Test Kitchen (http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/shanghai/articles/blogs-shanghai/shanghai-dining/simons-test-kitchen-quirky-xiaolongbao/). Just as good as the famous Din Tai Fung, I hear, at a fraction of the price. Anyone have a good recipe to try at home?

kab said...

Thanks! For those who don't like to cut and paste, the link to Simon's Test Kitchen is here. And definitely chime in on any homemade recipes!