Boiled, steamed, or fried

A version of this article appeared in the Montreal Mirror on February 9th, 2012.

Dumpling specialist Qing Hua opens a second address in Chinatown

Dumplings are the ultimate winter comfort food. For about three years now, Qing Hua in the Concordia Ghetto (1676 Lincoln) has been the ultimate place to eat these stuffed starch pockets, at least those of the Chinese jiaozi variety. The successful enterprise is growing, having recently acquired a new locale in Chinatown. I met my friend Charlotte their for a midweek dinner in January.

The new Qing Hua is considerably more spacious than the old semi-basement locale. However, with its sparse décor and over-bright lighting, the room has a rather sterile atmosphere. On the plus side, the dining area and bathrooms were spick-and-span, which could not always be said for other location.

The menu is a slightly expanded version of the one at the other location. In particular, there are some new soup and appetizer options. The selection of dumplings, which was already quite extensive, appears to be the same.

For the uninitiated, the dumplings stuffing options include several types of fish and seafood, several types of meat, and a few combinations of seafood and meat. The meat stuffings, made of pork, chicken, beef, or lamb, are available in combination a choice of aromatic vegetable or herb, including cabbage, celery, leek, coriander, or dill. Curry flavouring, however, is for reasons unknown only available with chicken. There are but a few meat and fish-free options. Whichever stuffing you choose, you can have your dumplings boiled, steamed, or fried.

I would like to mention that I prefer my dumplings boiled. I find boiling creates more soupy liquid inside, which oh so pleasantly oozes out and inundates the mouth with flavour when one bites into them. But be careful: if you bite into a dumpling that has just been boiled, the hot soup inside might scald your mouth. Give your dumplings a few moments to cool off.

We skipped the soups section and selected a pair of appetizers followed by two orders of dumplings. The appetizers were delivered almost immediately. The dumplings followed roughly 15 minutes later, which was quicker than usual. I’ve waited up to 40 minutes on busy nights at the other location.

One appetizer was an old favourite: soy beef ($9). Thick slices of boiled, soy-marinated beef, are served cold and dressed with flaky chili oil. After a little splashing of black vinegar and a few extra drops of chili oil from the jar on our table, it was delicious as usual. It made Charlotte, who hadn’t tried it before, hum with pleasure.

The second appetizer was a novel item called snow peas in cola ($7)—intriguing, I thought. The waitress warned us that this was quite sweet and double-checked that we wanted to order it—Chinese for white people don’t usually like this. We insisted on getting in anyway. Given the dish’s name, I was expecting the familiar flat, green pea pods. What we got were large, white, tender beans, similar to lima beans. They were in a thin, sweet sauce and were garnished with a few small, brown unidentified plum-like fruits. We should have heeded the waitress’s coded warning; neither of us cared much for this dish.

Then came time for main act: the dumplings. We selected pork and shrimp for our first order ($12). This is perhaps among the blander options flavourwise. Undeniably, dumplings with this stuffing demand a little dipping in black vinegar and chili oil. Where this stuffing really shines, however, is in the texture department. The fatty minced pork is soft, almost pillowy whereas the shrimp in the middle is firm and springy, slightly resisting the bite. I get a kick out of this, and hopefully you will too.

Our second order was stuffed with lamb and coriander ($13). The herb delightfully complimented lamb’s distinctive, assertive flavour. I cannot imagine a better pairing. Like the pork in the other dumplings, the lamb was pleasingly fatty—just right for a winter night.

The quality of the food at the Chinatown Qing Hua location is, as far as I can tell, the same as at the other location. While the new locale is roomier and cleaner, I think I prefer the dimmer, cozier atmosphere at the other location. That being said, the new Qing Hua is still a welcome addition to a somewhat sclerotic Chinatown dining scene.

Qing Hua Chinatown

Address: 1019 St-Laurent
Phone: 514-903-9887
Hours: Daily 11 am – 9 pm
Best features: Dumplings!!!
Alcohol: Yes.
Wheelchair Access: A few steps up.
Vegetarian friendly: Limited.
Credit cards: No.
Price: $10-20 per person (before drinks, tax, and tip).
Rating: *** and out of ****


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