Vanessa’s Dumpling House
118A Eldridge Street (Grand Street)
(Note: The sandwiches at the East 14th Street location of Vanessa’s are not recommended.)
NIU ROU SHAO BING
Those who consider China an unlikely source of handcrafted breads should consider the popular breakfast called you tiao shao bing: a fried cruller folded inside a fluffy sesame-sprinkled pancake, essentially a bread sandwich. In New York, shao bing (sesame pancakes) often appear at Beijing-style fried dumpling shops, known for their remarkable price-to-quality ratio and their lack of amenities, like chairs. But they also make niu rou shao bing, an exquisite sandwich on bread that rivals anything from Sullivan Street Bakery or Tom Cat Bakery.
The flat-bottomed woks used to sear the dumplings are put to work frying shao bing the size of large pizzas. Right out of the wok they are sprinkled with sesame seeds, hacked into wedges, dabbed with hoisin sauce and stuffed with braised beef. The crunchy sandwich shows off the bread’s flaky inside, subtle scallion flavor and golden crust. (The key is timing: wait for bread that is hot off the stove.)
Kai Feng Fu Dumpling House in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is one of the best of New York’s new crowd of specialists in mian shi, meaning flour food, a staple of Northern China. “It’s a way of categorizing dumplings, noodles and bread as opposed to rice, the staple of the South,” said Fuchsia Dunlop, a British journalist who graduated from culinary school in Sichuan and has written books about cooking and eating in China.
“They use a bit of yesterday’s dough for leavening,” she reported after quizzing the cooks at Kai Feng Fu in Mandarin last week. “The dough is pressed out, then they scatter it with chopped scallion, then fold and press it again.” Her new memoir, “Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper,” is about her serious effort to break through from eating as a foreigner in China — both in her mouth and in her mind. “You would have to get to the point where a beef sandwich and a goose intestine were equally appealing,” she said. “It takes time.”
April 30, 2008