Mark Hiew (more chengdu)|
Ahh, dumplings. There’s something tangibly magical that happens when you wrap meat and vegetables in dough. Tim Wu, a leading cyberspace and, apparently, dumpling authority, describes what he calls the “magic ratio” between protein and carbohydrate, a line that good sandwiches, sushi and dumplings must all wrestle with. For dumplings, the magic lies in the balance between pastry and filling. This balance with dumplings hinges on the thickness of the skin.
In Sichuan, the native chaoshou tends to use a thinner skin, as do the Guangdong dim sum variety. For satisfyingly thick, chewy skins, however, the northeast-style is king. And in Chengdu, for some thirteen years, Harbin Boiled Dumplings (shui jiao), tucked away on the quiet, leafy haven that is West Yulin Road, has been winning fans over, largely through word of mouth.
HBD (as the cool kids call it) is a bare, non-pretentious room of seemingly always-occupied square tables seating four-to-six. Equipped only with a single Chinese-language menu, patrons select their flavor by ‘liang,’ each liang consisting of six dumplings (2-4RMB/liang). Flavors vary from tomatoes, potato, and mushrooms—all with pork—to a single veg-friendly chives and eggs. A two-liang minimum per type and person is in practice. Harbin, the capital of chilly Heilongjiang province, is a land of “bai wei,” or natural flavor, and though lajiao is available, HBDs nourishing nuggets are best enjoyed dipped only in vinegar. Add a plate of delectable boiled peanuts (5RMB) or other cold dishes to round out your meal.
Beyond their namesake foodstuff, standard fried dishes, including some northeastern specialty chicken, stewed pork and tofu skin dishes, are all available (8-20RMB), as is the popular roast lamb hot pot (38RMB/jin of lamb). Prices are excellent: a hearty lunch should set you back 15-20RMB per person. Non-refrigerated beer and grain alcohol (8-14RMB) are also available.