Alibi V.24 No.1 • Jan 1-7, 2015 

Restaurant Review

Traveling Fare

Pop-Up Dumpling House

Dumplings
Dumplings
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
The noodle bar and Asian deli at Talin are long gone. There are glass canisters of tea stacked on top of the ovens and ceramic ware in the deli cases. For five days a week, that corner of the store appears to be a backwater, a repository for items that don’t otherwise have homes—including the Frankfurt, Paris and Rome grocery aisles. But on Thursdays and Fridays from 11am to 6pm, the Pop-Up Dumpling House rolls into town.

The menu is very short, consisting mainly of the namesake dumplings, which are made to order and filled with your choice of lamb, rib eye, shrimp, traditional pork, vegetarian or wild coho salmon. An order comes with your choice of hot and sour or egg drop soup, and a choice of traditional, spicy or Sichuan-style dipping sauces.

Most notably, it came in the form of tender, sweet pork belly slabs folded into a slice of the kind of dough from which Chinese bao dumplings are made. It’s an elegant, tiny sandwich with slices of green apple and green onion, which add fresh, crispy, spicy and sweet elements to this unique dish. And it will only set you back three bucks.

The Sichuan sauce is characterized by an odd spice that is found in many parts of Southern China and some other South Asian countries. The pinkish kernels resemble peppercorns but aren’t. The flavor is hard to describe. It has a definite mouth-numbing quality and an aromatic whiff that reminds me of cilantro, while being completely not at all like cilantro, if you know what I mean.

Pork belly sandwich
Pork belly sandwich
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
You don’t know what I mean, of course. The taste of Sichuan pepper can’t be described; I just said that. But if you visit the dumpling house, you will know what I mean. Many of the dishes are seasoned with it, including the filling of the vegetarian dumplings, which also contain a minced mix of tofu, carrot, green onion and mushroom.

Being boiled, the dumpling wrappers are soft, chewy and delicate. A plate of dumplings is a simple dish but fully satisfying. And if your attention span is a bit short, you can split an order of eight dumplings into two different fillings. The salmon dumpling doesn’t have much in the way of seasonings but delivers a big mouthful of salmon, making it one of my favorites even if it comes off as less than traditional. The lamb doesn’t taste very lamby, thanks to the inscrutable seasonings. The rib eye is ground and mixed with carrots and scallion. We didn’t get around to trying the pork, instead choosing to get our pork meats elsewhere.

Most notably, it came in the form of tender, sweet pork belly slabs folded into a slice of the kind of dough from which Chinese bao dumplings are made. It’s an elegant, tiny sandwich with slices of green apple and green onion, which add fresh, crispy, spicy and sweet elements to this unique dish. And it will only set you back three bucks. Another version substitutes duck for the pork in the little sandwich, but it isn’t as glorious—partly because the duck is cold, and partly because ... pork belly.

Green tea mojito
Green tea mojito
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
There’s also a dish called Dan Dan noodles, in which a pile of what appears to be spaghetti is topped with a mix of tiny cubes of tofu and ground pork, with bean sprouts, scallions and cucumber laid on top. I love the combination of tofu and pork, as much for the flavor as for the proclamation that tofu is not a mere meat substitute—serving it with pork kind of negates that—but a viable ingredient in its own right. The proteins are bathed in a savory, greasy gravy that’s heavy with the Sichuan pepper.

The best bowl of soup to be had at the Pop-Up Dumpling House, by far, is the hot and sour soup that comes with an order of dumplings. Not overly thickened with cornstarch, it’s spicy with ground black pepper and flecks of red chile, and sour with vinegar. I thought I detected some Sichuan pepper too. It’s not vastly different from any other bowl of hot and sour soup, but the flavors seemed heightened. It really engaged the senses. The egg drop soup, however, was bland by comparison.

Also noteworthy is a side salad called spicy cucumber, seasoned with oil, red chile flakes and—you guessed it—Sichuan pepper.

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
There are drinks to be had at the Pop-Up Dumpling House, the best of which is the non-alcoholic green tea mojito, which is nothing short of a transcendent, effervescent experience. It’s fizzy, limey and minty fresh—so fresh, the server had to go buy a bunch of mint from Talin—but not too sweet. It should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Pop-Up Dumpling House

at Talin Market
88 Louisiana SE

Hours: Thursday and Friday: 11am-6pm
Ambiance: Carved out of a cluttered corner
Plastic: Yes
Booze: No
FYI: The Pop-Up Dumpling House sets up shop at the Santa Fe Talin on Mondays
Important: Pop-up Dumpling will be closed Thursday, Jan. 1, and Friday, Jan. 2, due to a family emergency.

The Alibi recommends: Pork belly sandwich, salmon dumplings and the green tea mojito.