Everybody was jiaozi fighting
Ye-Gon: Dumplings are great. They’re fun to look at. They’re fun to eat. They’re even fun to say. Try it. Dumplings. Dummmmplingggs.
While to us it’s often seen as a treat or an entrée item at a Chinese restaurant, dumplings remain a significant side-staple in many parts of China, where these morsels in all kinds of shapes and sizes are sold on the street as on-the-go meals for passers-by. And when it comes to dumplings in Hamilton, two spots stand out with their claim to hand-made dumpling supremacy. In the blue corner, hailing from the Claudelands roundabout, the Dumpling House, and in the red corner, nestled within the hustle and bustle of Victoria Street, Nancy’s Dumplings & Buns. So, how do they stack up?
Let’s start with the Dumpling House. Their dumplings go for $13-$16 depending on your choice of fillings, and whether they’re served steamed, or pan-fried. There’s a huge range of about a dozen types of dumplings, and I got the classic steamed pork & prawn, and a pan-fried beef & onion at the recommendation of the staff. It’s not cheap at first glance, until you realise they don’t skimp out on portion size either. One serving with a drink will make for a really filling lunch, and fair enough, the place was doing really well on a weekday lunchtime with Asian and non-Asian diners alike looking to get their Chinese fix.
When I order pork & prawn dumplings, I often find the filling is minced and reconstituted to the point where it’s unrecognisable, neither pork nor prawn. Not here; they’re generous with big chunks of broken prawn meat, and the delightfully elastic bite contrasts with the earthy, meaty, porky goodness rather nicely. The beef filling still packs a bit of a kick from all the onions, and the spices have been tempered just so against the meat. It doesn’t overshadow the composition, but the beefiness really comes through nicely.
The wrapping is quite thick, and overall rather doughy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I wonder if the particular fillings would have been better served inside something a bit thinner. The pan-fried dumpling adds a nice bit of textural contrast and well worth the extra $2 in my book, but I think it could do with a little more browning. Overall, rather impressive. Now, to check out the competition.
Nancy’s is rather unassuming from the outset. It’s a little hole in the wall, with an even smaller kitchen that takes up less than half of the floor space. The friendly bloke (who I assume wasn’t Nancy) advised me that the dumplings are made on premise, which is a bit of a remarkable feat considering the real estate they have to work with. Dumplings are sold by the unit at $1 or $1.50 depending on the filling. They also sell most dumplings at $10 a dozen, except the pork & prawn at $12 per ten. They’re all potsticker-style pan-fried, and while the wrapping isn’t housemade, it’s appropriate for how they cook and serve them.
It’s a wholly different style of pork & prawn: again, big chunk of prawn which is appreciated, but fennel is on star billing as far as flavour goes. The thinner wrapping browns and crisps up nicely, imparting a toasty, sharp flavour and texture. The chicken dumpling is overseasoned and underspiced to the point that the smallest dab of soy sauce makes it unpalatable, not sure what else to say. Another little bonus is that they have a wide selection of sauces to dress your dumplings with, including (my favourite) soy sauce with vinegar and chili oil.
So, two very different offerings from two handmade dumpling specialists. They both embrace the rustic style and powerful aromatic spices in contrasting way. You can’t go wrong with either places, but my next visit will be to The Dumpling House. No reason other than it’s down the road from where I live.
The Dumpling House is located at the corner of Te Aroha and Grey Streets, Claudelands. They’re open Tuesday to Sunday from 11am till 8pm.
Nancy’s is located at 151 Victoria Street, CBD. They’re open for lunch Monday to Saturday from 11am till 2pm, and for dinner Monday to Thursday 5pm to 9pm and Friday 5pm till 12am.