The dumpling trail: a culinary tour of Chinatown
Sample delicious dumplings from China and beyond on the streets of central London
It may be a transparent marketing ploy, but National Dumpling Day, on 26 September, is as good an excuse as any to venture into Chinatown.
While Portuguese empanada, Polish pierogi and Japanese gyoza are not as rare as they once were, the Chinese restaurants of central London offer an unrivalled quantity, quality and variety of dumpling dishes.
Here are a selection of regional specialities to mark the occasion.
Chao shou at Baozi Inn
A small restaurant popular with Chinese students, Baozi Inn has an informal, family atmosphere. The street-food inspired menu looks to northern and central regions of China, where chilly temperatures favour a heartier dumpling. The speciality is the Sichuan chao shou, a crescent moon-shaped package of minced pork and ginger, seasoned with soy sauce, chilli oil and star anise. Pork and prawn dumplings in chicken broth are a true winter warmer.
Pork chao shou, £5 for five at Baozi Inn, 26 Newport Court, London WC2
Xiao long bao at Plum Valley
Halfway along Gerrard Street, at the heart of Chinatown, sits Plum Valley, a slick and stylish restaurant which blends traditional and modern Chinese cuisine. Its Cantonese braided wonton, for example, replace the expected shark fin with glass noodles - apparently identical in texture - and crab stick.
The highlight, however, is the Shanghai-style xiao long bao (literally “small basket buns”, named after the bamboo boxes in which they are steamed). Circular wrappers are carefully pleated around a mix of pork, crab meat and jelly, which melts during cooking to produce a richly flavoured soup. Eating them is an art form in itself: puncturing the shell is frowned upon, so nibble the top and slurp out the liquid. Or wait until they’ve cooled and pop them in whole.
Shanghai pork and crab xiao long bao, £3.10 at Plum Valley, 20 Gerrard Street, London W1
Taro dumplings at XU
Keep heading west through the streets of London - and east through culinary traditions - for a taste of Taiwanese dumplings at XU, an elegant recreation of a 1930s Taipei tea room (top photo). Fortified with taro root, their purple-tinged shells have a thicker, mealier texture than the wheat-dough wrappings of the mainland dumplings. Stuffed with either sweet potato and miso or sweet-cured sausage, they’re served with vivid green kow choi oil.
Fans of soup dumplings should try the xian bing - large wheat wrappers stuffed with pork and spring onion. Pan fried, they come with a crispy base, and are liable to squirt hot fatty juices as you bite into them.
Three Taiwanese sausage taro dumplings for £6; two xian bing for £6 at XU, 30 Rupert Street, London W1