The Chinese New Year begins Monday, and families all over Chicagoland will be descending upon restaurants, eating noodles for long life, and most likely, some dumplings too.
Hungry Hound Steve Dolinsky went in search of a few delicious dumplings, and found both traditional versions in Chinatown as well as some new-fangled ones in Hyde Park.
The women gather together early each morning, back in the kitchen at Qing Xiang Yuan Dumpling House in Chinatown, to make traditional jiaozi, which are eaten as much in Eastern and Central and Southern Asia as they are in China.
“We typically call it juicy, steamy dumplings. The dumplings are typically from the Northern part of China,” said Ariana Sun, the co-owner of Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings.
They form the discs of dough by hand, stuff them with all manner of ingredients like pork, seafood, or the excellent lamb and cumin, then either steam them or boil them gently. At the table, simply dip into a sauce of Chinese vinegar and soy, with a hint of chili oil.
Meanwhile, in Hyde Park, University of Chicago students have been descending on Packed since it opened a few weeks ago. Everything here is made from scratch, but they’re definitely not traditional Chinese dumplings.
“The goal is to have something that’s fun in the packaging that people are familiar with, but do something that’s unexpected and reimagined,” said Aaron DiMaria, the owner of Packed.
Think duck-and-pork, steamed in a curry wrapper with ginger-scallion sauce, topped with green olives; spicy meatball with marinara, short ribs with horseradish cream; even house-made pastrami with pickled green tomatoes.
“We certainly are meat-centric but we do have a fantastic vegetarian option, it’s a butternut squash, lady apples, balsamic caramel and crispy sage,” he said.
Since it is winter time, the fillings at Packed for now are leaning a little bit heavier – duck, pork and beef – but come summertime, when the farmer’s markets start opening up, expect a lot more options, on a completely different menu with a lot more vegan and vegetarian options.
You can certainly get both versions to go, but for the best dumpling eating experience, it’s best to eat them right after they come out of the steamer.
Qing Xiang Yuan Dumpling
2002 S Wentworth Ave
1321 E. 57th St.