Feeling chilly in this winter season, feeling the sniffles coming along and a tickle in your throat? Fed up of the hearty meals you’ve been shovelling into your expanding gut? Need that addictive Chinese street food fix that you cannot get at a takeaway? Head over to the Dumpling Shack at Spitalfields for a perhaps unorthodox yet satisfying victual resolution.
When people think of Chinese dumplings, I am almost certain they first think of the glorious xiaolongbao. A feature of almost every restaurant that seeks to represent Shanghai-style cuisine, this soup dumpling is incredibly difficult to get right, but marvellous when well executed. But the risks of selling these as street food is unnecessarily troublesome – they tend to tear if not prepared carefully and could severely burn your tongue and face if not eaten correctly. Therefore, to bridge the gap between our desire for soup dumplings and the requirements of a street kitchen, the Dumpling Shack provided us with the shengjianbao.
These have a more resilient dough than their steamed cousins and are served, knot side down, after being pan-fried to the crispness of addictive pot-stickers. There is a discrepancy with regards to the amount of soup you get, xiaolongbao boasting significantly more, but shengjianbao occupy that wonderful half-way point between gyoza and soup dumpling. The Dumpling Shack have got their dumplings down to an art: each specimen a plump bulb of supple opaline dough, filled with steaming ambrosial soup and soft pork, leek and chestnut filling. They offer a set of four or six; always go for six.
Their prawn wantons dish is an experience in and of itself. The dough is silky and tender yet firm and the minced prawn filling is understated yet indulgent, but the element that makes the dish a winner has to be the Sichuan chilli oil. The heat of the of the wantons exacerbates beautifully the tingly thrill of the chilli oil, presenting a taste not as straight forward as the conventional chilli flake in terms of the after-burn, but rather gives off this numbing sensation which has the allure of popping candy. Texturally, the oil adds a fun slickness to each wanton allowing for a pleasurable sensations on the tongue. Rest assured that after a few of these, your sinuses will be cleared as an added bonus.
The Dumpling Shack is no well-kept secret – getting your fix often means standing in line awhile. But do wait, for the aromas are soothing and the anticipation, though increasing your hunger, make for an added appreciation for dishes that eventually come. Even when they are given to you across the counter, make sure you savour each bite, not just because the soup will sear your lips off (personal experience speaking) but also because each plate that comes out of this tiny kitchen is remarkably magical and moreish to the point of obsession.
Old Spitalfields Market, Brushfield St, London E1 6BG
Pork and Leak Shengjianbao £6.50; Prawn Wantons £6.50; Dan Dan Noodles £7.50