The best dumplings in London
The archetypal Japanese dumpling – the near-identical Chinese potsticker is a brother by another Asiatic mother – are beloved by both epicurean boffins and garden variety Wagamama enthusiasts. Those dished up by Covent Garden’s Gyoza Bar are grand, but the classic pork, dipped in umami-heavy soy sauce and rice vinegar, are superlative: roughly minced and fragrant pig spiked with spring onion, wrapped in a delicately yielding skin and pan-fried. Gimme!
Spurter of broth and burner of mouths, the steamed, soup-filled xioalongbao is, perhaps, the dumpling world’s favourite son. Dumpling Shack, an ace little stall on Hackney’s Broadway Market, specialises in shengjianbao: a bigger, ‘roided-up riff , stuffed with pork, water chestnut and leek. An insider’s tip? Punch a hole and let it cool before snaffling, you insatiable gannets!
A Korean street food staple, mandu come in various shapes and preparations. Crinkly, chubby steamed rings are the norm, but Vauxhall’s ramshackle karaoke-bar-cum-restaurant Jihwaja serves them deep-fried. These pork-stuffed parcels with pinched ends – like Lilliputian pasties – are both crisp and satisfyingly chewy, best when slathered in honking kimchi and soaked in soy. Novelty-free they may be but make no mistake: they’re serious Seoul food.
These broth-seeping Georgian dumplings are as robust as they come: with a pleated knobble at the top. Traditionally, these are used as a handle to scoff the meaty parcel underneath then chucked aside, but you’d be forgiven for downing the lot. Not least those made by Little Georgia, who recommend flipping their boiled, beef ’n’ pork-stuffed khinkali – topped with sour cream and adjika (a spicy red pepper paste) – and chomping into the flat side to stem any soupy torrents.
Fashioned from a square skin made from water, flour and egg – giving it a yellow-ish tinge – wontons could be mistaken for tortellini pasta by the undiscerning, though they’re a real classic Chinese dumpling. Clapton’s My Neighbours the Dumplings do a more idiosyncratic soup-dunked spin. Bobbing about in a rich pork rib broth – they’re made extra flavourful by adding puréed onion to the porky, chivey filling. Everybody needs good neighbours: these excel themselves.
Shui jiao may look basic as heck, but they’re a central player in the Chinese dumpling canon. People were wolfing them down as far back as AD 25-ish and they’re supposedly shaped like gold ingots as a nod to China’s old currency. Filling-wise, they’re super versatile, though most commonly stuffed with pork and Chinese cabbage. Teeny-tiny Chinatown staple Baozi Inn does one kind only: a pork and chive version, served with soy, vinegar and lao gon mar, a kind of lurid Chinese chilli sauce. Textbook stuff all round.
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Foraging street-food mavens Mike & Ollie were inspired to create their British riff on the Turkish manti – a sort of tightly stuffed, boiled dumpling – after a cross-continental train ride to Istanbul. Top of the pile is their Swaledale lamb, onion and cumin version. Knock-out flavours aside, this is also the London food stall scene’s prettiest plate – doused in black chilli butter, yogurt, tomato sauce, breadcrumbs and dill.
For many, dumplings = dim sum. And city-best dim sum means a trip to Soho’s modern, Michelin-starred tea-house Yauatcha. Here, the dumplings are as pretty as they are delicious. Best of the lot? The steamed har gow: pearlescent, shell-shaped orbs filled with minced prawn and very little else, they’re minimalist in concept but famously difficult to make. When they’re good – and here they’re very good indeed – they’re the crown princes of the dumpling world. There’s no higher praise.
If chicken soup is ‘Jewish penicillin’, then kreplach – the fat, wrinkly dumplings sometimes found bobbing around in it (second only to kneidels) – are a dose of opiates. Those made at seminal deli-diner Harry Morgan are a (fever) dream – each dumpling’s rich, beefy filling is almost offally in density, and certainly too big to eat in one go. Ridiculously comforting, even without the steaming bowl of soup, crammed with shredded chicken; make a like a masochist and pray for flu.
The humble Polish pierogi – a steamed, pallid-looking dumpling – might appear to be a stodgily unrefined little fella. But these dense flavour bombs are absolutely killer, and Mamuśka, a gem of a Polish canteen in Elephant & Castle, knocks out the best of ‘em. A plate of their classic ‘ruskie’, stuffed with potato, white cheese and onion, and served with sour cream, is a savoury masterpiece.
Find more packages of joy at London’s best dim sum joints
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