By STEVEN DESALVO
For Montclair Local
In Montclair Eats, food writer Steven DeSalvo compares dishes at Montclair restaurants.
DeSalvo has a degree in hospitality business management from the University of Delaware and has worked extensively in restaurants and hotels.
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Recently, I have been on a dumpling kick and I have been exploring far and wide for the best examples of the dumpling through different cuisines. Dumplings are a simple enough concept: dough wrapped around a filling of some sort, whether it be meat, vegetables, or neither of the above. Plenty of things qualify as dumplings.
For this piece, I wanted to focus on three iconic styles of dumplings that are distinctly different, but all are fantastic in their own ways. The examples I could not wait to sample were the steamed chicken and shrimp dumplings or kanom jeeb from SLA Thai, the soup dumplings or xiao long bao from Hunan Taste, and finally the beef and cheese empanada from Empanada or Nada. I really sought to show different examples along with just how broad this food item is. I feel like that mission has been successful.
- At SLA Thai, the chicken and shrimp dumplings are presented open top in sort of a siu
mai style. The filling is rich in flavor and it is a perfect consistency, without being too dense. The dough surrounding this ethereal filling is thin but sturdy; it makes you aware of its presence. The flavors are light and elegant with the chicken and shrimp complementing each other beautifully. The sauce that accompanies the dumplings has a beautiful fermented flavor that really makes the subtle flavors of the dumpling pop. It is a must try for any local dumpling aficionados. For those feeling a little bit more texturally adventurous, I would also strongly recommend the chive pancake or gui chai which is a deep fried asian chive pancake that has an almost custard like texture. It is out of this world.
- Hunan Taste serves up a classic that originates from Shanghai, the soup dumpling. This magical creation is the fusion of a simple hot water dough, intensely flavorful pork filling, and a gelatin rich broth that is a solid at room temperature so that it can be folded into
the filling only to melt into divine soup during the steaming process. These dumplings are a very technically difficult thing to get right, as there are a number of important factors, all of which need to be in balance. This includes the thickness of the dough, ratio of soup to filling, and the overall flavor of the dumpling, to name a few. These dumplings are a great example of the style, with a nice subtlety to the flavors that is quite comforting. I would strongly urge anyone who hasn’t had a soup dumpling to make it a top priority.
- Finally, I partook in a beef-and-cheese empanada to round out my day of eating. Going to Empanada or Nada was a fantastic decision. The fresh and flaky pastry that wraps around the delightfully seasoned ground beef has great flavor and texture. It also isn’t at all greasy, with a really nice sustained crunch that is present throughout the (albeit short) lifetime of the empanada. The filling has nicely dispersed cheese that adds some moisture to the filling. There are a number of interesting and exciting flavors of empanadas, including a number of dessert ones! At the end of the day, I chose this one because I felt that it was pretty consistent with the general style of dumpling I was featuring this time around.
This is another topic that I feel like I might need to revisit as well. So please, let us know of your favorite places for your favorite kind of dumplings in town! I would love to give it a taste.
In this article:
- SLA Thai
38 Upper Montclair Plaza
- Hunan Taste
4 Alvin Place
- Empanada or Nada
454 Bloomfield Ave.