Houses of the Tasty

by James Boo on February 11, 2009 · 8 comments

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This is the second post of a week-long series.
You can read the first post

The pan-frying phalanx of Vanessa's Dumpling House - Photo by Robyn Lee
Since moving to New York I’ve been to Chinatown at least once a week for a bite, at one point joining a couple of friends for an afternoon dumpling crawl. Scarfing dumplings, pork buns and pancakes from six different take-outs back to back may not be as challenging or sophisticated as tasting six red wines, but I’m willing to bet that it’s a greater life skill. Such a task certainly begs a question common among wine skeptics: Is there really a noteworthy difference between one twenty-cent dumpling and the next? If you’re just hungry, perhaps not, but if you’re hungry and ambitious, the subtle divides between dumplings houses can redraw your stomach’s map of the neighborhood. I, for one, shoot for the stars when it comes to cheap food. I also like to drink six kinds of red wine with my fried dumplings.

Vanessa's Dumpling House - New York City Chinatown Fried Pork and Chive Dumplings - Vanessa's Dumpling House - New York City Chinatown
Just up the block from Prosperity Dumpling, the business formerly known as Dumpling House, Inc. attracts large crowds on the daily. Newly renovated and prefaced with the name Vanessa, this is Chinatown’s most genteel dumpling corner. The upscale appearance of Vanessa’s, however, belies its authenticity, which is obvious from the no-nonsense women behind the counter, the diverse and loyal following and the trace amounts of chaos that linger from the restaurant’s pre-expansion days.

Vanessa’s extensive menu makes ample use of its greater seating space, but its fried pork dumplings, priced at four for a dollar, are still the people’s champion. While they’re slightly larger than their counterparts at Prosperity, their construction isn’t balanced enough to win a back-to-back taste test. Vanessa’s dumplings are extremely thick skinned, which is brilliant if you’re in the mood for a heftier dose of fry bread- there’s absolutely no substitute for the solid, satisfying crunch through the bottom of one of these bun-like crescents. After one bite, however, the filling separates completely from the skin, evacuating the premises of its juices and leaving behind a shell and a disjointed nugget of meat. It’s all quite delicious, but falls short of a gold medal finish.

Fried Pork and Cabbage Dumplings - Tasty Dumpling - New York City Chinatown Tasty Dumpling - New York City Chinatown
About a ten minute walk away of Vanessa’s is the choice alternative for those who find Prosperity’s dumplings a bit heavy on the grease. Tasty Dumpling, another local favorite, lands squarely between Prosperity and Vanessa’s in style and atmosphere. The fried dumplings at this four-table take-out, selling at $1.25 for five, stake out a happy middle ground: Their skin is slightly thick, with a substantial crunch to the bottom and sides, but not so thick that their construction becomes a bifurcation of meat and dough. The juices inside the dumplings are more plentiful here than at Vanessa’s, but not as intense as the innards of Prosperity’s. Tasty Dumpling also makes their dumplings with cabbage, the lighter notes and soft crisp of which make for a delicious change of pace from the standard pork-and-chives duo.

Fried Pork and Cabbage Pancake - Tasty Dumpling - New York Chinatown
Taking this difference to its logical extreme is Tasty Dumpling’s pork and cabbage pancake, which costs $1.50 and is fried to order. While not quite as tasty as its dumpling cousins, this delight brings to the table a heartier, chewier dough that can be just as enticing. The crust of the pancake stays bone dry, making it easier to eat by hand. The same wonderful filling inside, though, is eager to spill out, balancing the textures and creating a pool of flavor wherever you happen to be holding it. Despite whatever mess is made, the lighter tastes and textures of the cabbage and pork blend keeps your soggy pancake fail from being any less delicious- an oily testament to this tastiest of houses.

Vanessa’s Dumpling House
118 Eldridge St.
New York, NY 10002
Tasty Dumpling
54 Mulberry St.
New York NY 10013


Brendan K. February 11, 2009 at 7:13 am

Best. Zep title. Ever.

zmmann February 11, 2009 at 6:25 pm

I feel like this series is a campaign to bring me to NYCC-Town in March. So far, pretty effective.

Shavedicesundays February 11, 2009 at 6:49 pm

OMG, I’m very, very hungry. So much juice in those dumplings and that pancake.

foodhoe February 11, 2009 at 7:04 pm

oh that pancake has got me drooling… I’ve never seen one, but I wasn’t looking either. where have I been, this series of NYC cheap chineses is great

James February 12, 2009 at 3:19 am

All hail the Chinese value meal! Yet, still no match for a Jack in the Box taco…

Robyn February 13, 2009 at 5:32 am

Going to six different dumpling centric take outs is way, WAY awesomer than tasting six red wines. ;)

chinese dumplings May 6, 2009 at 12:40 am

haha nice,i hope it taste the way it question, how can I add your blog into my rrs reader.

delicious dumplings July 15, 2009 at 5:40 am

The Tasty Dumpling’s pork and cabbage pancake is amazing, as well as cheap for most people, now I am mouth watering and hungry, it is a torture for sure! I will check these fantastic Chinese restaurants one day and enjoy a good meal with my family :D
Thank you so much for sharing.

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