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Jan 22, 2002 08:12 AM

hunan dumplings

  • s

New to Chowhound and am looking for really good Hunan dumplings in the Boston area. I don't want to have to go to NYC just for a fix!


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  1. I have a bad habit of pointing, and often not knowing what I'm eating!! Could you describe what a Hunan-style dumpling is? Maybe I've had it,(or someone else has), and don't know it...

    2 Replies
    1. re: galleygirl

      Supersnob got it right. They are soft meat filled dumplings (lighter than peking ravioli) and have a peanut sauce. There do not seem to be many, if any Hunan restaurants in Boston....

      1. re: sarah

        a while back, there were hardly any Indian restaurants here: virtually all of those locations had Chinese restaurants in them, and many of those featured Hunan in the name (though, I have to say the menus did not seem a whole lot different than the ones that said Szechuan). With all of those many many choices there was a lot better Chinese available. I'm not sure why they all closed up, but I can imagine it had to do with immigrants assimilating.

        and you're right now that you mention it, the wrappers on the dumplings I had were much thinner than pot stickers, presumably because they don't need to be durable enough to stick to the pot. If you don't see them anyplace else, I'd ask at Mary Chung's, they have the dumplings and I'll bet they'd make them for you.

    2. I didn't know what "hunan dumplings" were, so I searched and found people talking about what are essentially meat-filled dumplings (potstickers or peking ravioli) served with a creamy peanutty sauce.
      Assuming this is correct, I think I had them at the Chinese restaurant next door to CompUSA on Mass Ave in Central Square Cambridge. The dumplings were good and the sauce was nice and spicy, but I'm not a fan of creamy peanutty sauce so YMMV.

      My memory of this is a little foggy, so I do apologize if I've got this wrong. But, if I recall correctly, I was trying the dish that they call Suan La Chow Show and I got the creamy peanut sauce dumplings. As many people know, a few doors up toward Central Square proper is Mary Chung's, a restaurant with a devoted following. At Mary Chung's, Suan La Chow Show is a spicy "soup", except it's not a soup. It's a vinegar/soy/ginger/scallion sauced raw mung beansprout pile with plump juicy dumplings on top. It is very spicy, and really good: I suspect it is not "authentic" Chinese, but the ingredients all are. I think about 20% of Mary Chung's menu is really unusual and good, and then there's a bunch of not so enjoyable things. But their dun dun noodles are really good if you want to pursue the creamy peanut sauce angle that way (I'll bet they'd put it on the dumplings if you wanted, or if they don't already). Also their velvet chicken is tasty and unusual for it's soft curds of egg (I think? not tofu?) and chicken which look the same but are different in the mouth. Tasty and nice, but gratuitously oily so be prepared.

      it's been a half dozen years since I had these "hunan" dumplings and that restaurant has changed hands a few times so they may not be there anymore. in fact, now that I think of it... was there a chinese restaurant exactly where CompUSA is now? maybe that's where it was?

      14 Replies
      1. re: supersnob

        I'm WAY out at the edges of my knowledge here, but when I hear "hunan" and "dumpling" and "spicy creamy peanut sauce", it jars a memory of more of a wonton-like shape than the classic pot-sticker. Very very tender, almost like the Afghani aushak...which, come to think of it, are also wontonesque in form. The dumplings I'm thinking of, like good aushak, make it hard to tell, with a blindfold, where creamy sauce ends and tender dumpling begins (Cantonese readers are gagging, but I love 'em).

        Is any of this jogging associations for anyone else, or am I just remembering the way one single place made these things for me, way back?

        As for oilyness, of course one goes into a Hunan place EXPECTING that! It's like talking about Thai spiciness. But you guys all know that....


        1. re: Jim Leff

          The accuracy of your description of the dumplings I had is remarkable, especially since I didn't quite remember them myself. The "flowing robes" of these wontons provided huge surface area for collecting lots of the sauce, which is much creamier than typical of dun dun noodles sauce. And the softness once in the mouth, while interesting from a "scientific" point of view, was not something I enjoyed. When the dumplings were at about 98.6F it was... that sentence has nowhere to go that's good. I can see how cool they'd be if you like them. Since your description jibes with my recollection, it's a more convincing case of a common style rather than a local creation.

          as to oily... I've never eaten food in southwestern China, but while in Hong Kong I begged my host to take me to a "Szechuan" restaurant, hoping to get a glimpse of some "authentic" version of what I'd been eating in Cambridge... and I guess it was: every bowl came with at least a quarter inch of orange oil floating on it. When I griped before somewhere here about a certain restaurant having too much oil I meant "leftover puddle in the plate". This was a whole nother category, way too much oil right up front.

          1. re: supersnob


            I've had dumplings exactly as jim described in one restaurant in chicago (now defunct-szechuan house), labeled as szechuan wonton - they were great. Later when i've ordered szechuan dumplings/wonton in chinatown locations they've been more like your description in china. Hope you find 'em

            1. re: supersnob

              hey, glad my wontonesque memories were validated!

              As for the oil, you'd have a similar experience asking for pasta with garlic and oil in some parts of'd be nearly like oil soup.

              Cantonese would be miserable with thick-skinned pierogi. Catalans would consider ludicrous and abusive the pepper level in a serious Thai place. Dominicans would find nouvelle cuisine portions an outrage, and Mexicans would suffer through a meal of inconceivably, contemptuously unspicy Scandinavian food. Of course, all the things being railed at would be cooked properly for their styles.

              I guess it helps to be aware of the baselines so you know, walking in, what to expect, and not reject as bad cooking something which is consummately traditional. My belief is that nearly anything traditional--and done properly--can be enjoyed, so long as I drop out-of-context predilections and set my mind to the proper frequency.

              1. re: Jim Leff

                True that one should be open minded about baselines,
                but another baseline is the expections of the diner.
                Let me put it this way: if you were giving advice to
                a Sichuanese making his first trip to the US, you
                would be remiss if you didn't warn him to
                "steer clear of the bacon cheeseburgers and onion
                rings; they've hardly enough fat to keep them moist!"

                1. re: supersnob

                  Ha! Perfect! Especially liked the word "moist".

                  But to riff and digress just a bit more re: diner expectation (not really talking to you here, just meandering) of the pillars of chowhoundness (which I certainly didn't invent; there've been chowhounds long before me) is the inversion of the standard quandry of "what do I feel like eating?" It involves turning expectation upside down

                  Non-hounds ask themselves "what do I feel like eating?" from behind a menu, in a restaurant. Chowhounds resolve most of that before they leave the house.

                  Non-hounds order veal parmigiana in diners if they "FEEL LIKE" veal parmigiana. If a chowhound feels like veal parmigiana, s/he heads for the best veal parmigiana source within fifty (or more miles). We actively select the experience, and, having taken matters more into our own hands (or mouths), we're more often pleased (though it takes tons of energy, experience, and a full repertoire of favorite spots....which this site is intended to help fill out).

                  Even when checking out an unknown restaurant, a chowhound's always trying to gauge what the place does very best...never ordering what we most feel like eating. If a craving were involved, that craving would have been satisfied, dammit. We tune ourselves to the resident frequency--and aim to be universal receptors for everything from nachos to Sauternes (so long as it's really great).

                  So it's with this world view that a chowhound approaches issues like the oiliness of Sichuan cuisine. If we find ourselves in Sichuan places, it's because we've CHOSEN to enter that (greasy/spicy) realm. We take it upon ourselves to juggle expectation and a palette of choices in order to ensure the right meal for the moment.


              2. re: supersnob

                These postings regarding "Hunan Dumplings" really got my attnetion..... You see my Father-In-Law is from Hunan and my Mother In-Law is from San Tong - famous for their dumplings (water-dumplings...)and their "dough" products, noodles, etc.... Seems that my F-I-L really does not care for any dough products, in Hunan he was raised on rice, while my M-I-L really does not care for rice. So these posting for Hunan Dumplings really got my attention. So I called and spoek to my FIL and asked him about these Dumplings, and he never heard of them! In Hunan, most everything is cooked with red chili's, most meats were smoked - there was little or no refrigeration, rice was grown and my FIL's family farms main crop were lily-buds and celery-lettuce(I think that's what it's called). So I'm really wondering what these Dumplings really are, and where they originated....

              3. re: Jim Leff

                I remember this as being served on a bed of (yes, oily) spicy mung beans - cool and crunchy to offset the melt-in-your-mouth wontons.

                1. re: Jim Leff

                  New Chinatown has an app called Szechuan Wontons..which you've just described..light skinner wontons in a spicy, peanut sauce..very similar to Mary Chungs Suan La Chow..New Shanghai's sauce is a bit thicker.

                  1. re: 9lives

                    Thank you, Jeff. I will try New Shanghai and report back!


                    1. re: sarah

                      Enjoy..btw my name is David..not Jeff.

                    2. re: 9lives

                      I've learned to pretty much ignore regional labels in Chinese restaurants, ESPECIALLY when a dish is outside the restaurant's home region.

                      If you want to make a Singaporian spitting mad, ask him about that ubiquitous Cantonese restaurant dish, "Singapore chow mai fun", with the awful harsh curry powder.

                      I've had very very authentic Sichuan dumplings in spicy peanut oil, and they were slightly less melty and luxurious than the version I remember as being Hunam. But, again, my knowledge is really limited in this area. My point is...the Sichuan/Hunam frontier is often real blurred in restaurant menus.


                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        My knowledge is also limited in this area, but my pals from China tell me that Hunan cuisine relies on "la" - spiciness (in the hot sense), whereas Szechuan cooking rests on "ma la" - numbing and spiciness.

                        franklint describes this on the SF board (link below).


                      2. re: 9lives

                        thanks for the info!

                        small correction: Mary Chung's Suan La Chow has no
                        discernible peanuts. their sauce/soup is more like
                        ginger/soy/vinegar/scallion dipping sauce thinned out
                        a bit.

                  2. h
                    Heathen & Spells

                    From gleaning earlier replies it sounds like you are looking for what usualy apears ( in my experience ) on menues around hear as " spicy setzuan wontons". You can get a suprisingly good version of this in ( of all places ) New Asia just out of union sq. ( somerville ) on somerville ave. Especially on some nights ( cook dependant ? ) these are as spicy and satisfying as any version I've had of this dish in NY,Boston or beyond. New Asia has a few locations ( there are now 4 or 5 in the local area ),but I can't vouch for any but the union sq branch. A an aside to the setzuan/hunan question, the first time I ever had this dish was at a resturant in Portland, OR. called Hunans, where they were listed as "Dumplings in Spicy sauce ".