You gotta get the soup dumplings and the spicy dan dan beef noodles at Dumpling Shack in Spitalfields Market when in East London. Opinions on this place converged; enough people with different tastes, budgets and lifestyles recommended it to designate a statistically significant sample size. So I popped over for lunch before my train to Oxford and ordered the lot. But before that I took my time to walk the market, browsing the artwork and artisan creations at the various stalls. I almost bought a jacket at Leather Republic and a colorful men’s camp shirt to wear poolside at Loot Vintage. But instead I settled for some pictures for my Instagram story and a mango lassi from Indi-go Rasoi.
The line at Dumpling Shack moved quickly on a Tuesday at noon and there were all kind of folks there, from suited bankers to the casually dressed young professionals of Shoreditch. Contactless iPad ordering systems expedited the process. The wait wasn’t long either, and by the time I found a place (standing) at a communal high top, my buzzer was going off and my order was ready.
The Dumpling Shack’s signature dish is no doubt their Pork Pan-Fried Soup Dumplings 招牌豬肉生煎包, a.k.a. sheng jian baozi, which are made fresh every day. These took me back to trips with my dad to Shanghai and Suzhou, where I first had real xiao long bao, the steamed version of this dish. The secret to soup dumpling magic? (Or, how is a liquid packed into a solid?) The soup is stuffed inside the dumpling dough, along with minced pork, in semi-solid gelatin form and melts into liquid broth during the steaming / pan-frying process. Voila. And the “correct” (or at least the most elegant) way to eat them is to pierce a small hole in the skin with chopsticks, drain the broth into a spoon, sip the broth, and then eat the rest of the thing in one or two bites. I’m not dexterous enough to produce that small incision without completely ripping the seams of the thing open, so I generally just take a bite from the crispy bottom of the dumpling and suck the juice out loudly from around the ball of meat. Less elegant, but works for me.
Dumpling Shack’s version was quite yummy. Two come in one order, with a little mix of soy and vinegar on the side. The pan-fried underbelly of each dumpling was crunchy and caramelized, sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds and chives, while the tops were softer, more delicate and not as chewy as I expected them to be. The broth slurped out was fragrant and delicious, salty and umami, yet clean with hints of ginger. And the pork and leek filling was juicy and moist, the mild sweetness of these two ingredients blending beautifully, accented perfectly by the tang of the soy + vinegar.
I also got Dumpling Shack’s Spicy Dan Dan Beef Noodles 擔擔麵, the spicy Sichuan yang to the delicate ying of the Cantonese soup dumplings. A bed of steaming, sticky wheat noodles was topped with creamy, nutty and delicious sesame sauce, a very generous portion of spicy minced beef, mixed up with bright red chili peppers here and there, some julienned cukes for crunch and hydration, and plenty of freshly chopped, bright green chives. Mix it all together for the perfect mouthful: savory noodles with great chew, moist and crumbly beef bathed in chili oil and sesame sauce, the refreshing crunch of the cucumber, all in balance. A hearty and heart-warming meal on the cheap in London’s Spitalfields Market.