There's no denying that the two of us are far beyond fashionably late to the Qing Hua party. This super popular Chinese spot on Lincoln near the Concordia campus specializes in dumplings and has rapidly acquired a dedicated following. We finally got around to stopping in for our maiden Qing Hua voyage recently and left wondering what took us so long. There seem to be mixed opinions depending on who you speak to about the place in terms of whether or not it "used to be better". We can't weigh in on that argument though since this was our first visit. What we can tell you is that we had a good time and a unique meal there for what we consider to be a pretty reasonable price.
To be honest the place is certainly a hole in the wall. It's far from the cleanest restaurant we've ever been to, and the staff speak limited English, but for anyone used to eating in Chinatown this is unlikely to deter you very much; you're not here for white linen tablecloths and a bilingual sommelier, get over it fancy-pants. The dumplings are sold 15 to an order, you can request that they be boiled, steamed, or fried (supplemental fee of 1.50$) also, you have the option to mix 2 types of dumplings from your choice of 30 different available filling combinations for an extra 50 cents per order.
Although we dig dumplings as much as the next guy, we're by no means dumpling aficionados, so it's worth slipping in a disclaimer here that there is apparently some debate as to whether or not these are indeed, official Xiaolongbao a.k.a soup dumplings. As far as we're concerned they're dumplings that are served filled with hot liquid soup, so the "authenticity" argument holds little influence on our opinion. Bottom line: until we've been to China and experienced the real deal first hand we'll choose not to begrudge anyone who wants to call them soup dumplings. Although the task of trapping hot liquid soup within the dumpling wrapper may seem like the mystery of how they get the caramel in the Caramilk bar, we assure you that despite them tasting a little magical there is no witchcraft at play. Here's how it's done: the soup broth enclosed in the dumplings is made using aromatics and a bevy of pork parts that are rich in natural gelatins such as, but not limited to bones and skin. Once ready, the soup is cooled until it congeals and can be cut up before being mixed with your chosen filling and bundled securely in a dumpling wrapper. Next, the dumplings are steamed or boiled; once heated the confined gelatinized soup returns to its liquid state remaining trapped within the dumpling.
Since the dumplings at Qing Hua are prepared to order, during the approximately 20 minute requisite wait we started our meal with an appetizer that had immediately caught our attention. Along with a couple of Tsingtaos we got an order of spicy pork tongue & cucumber. Served cold, which we had not anticipated, a small plate piled high with tender slices of pork tongue and sliced, pickled cucumber are doused in copious amounts of fiery chili oil. One of us found it a little too hot, the other found the heat level just right, ultimately this one's going to depend on your threshold for spicy foods. The dish was a great companion to a few cold beers and we could easily see this being the type of snack you crave with a beer on a hot summer's day.
Our dumplings arrived shortly after we finished our appetizer. Our initial concern was that one order of dumplings may not have been enough while two might have been too much, we decided to go with two. In the end 2 portions (30 dumplings total) turned out to be just the right amount for the two of us. Served in the bamboo steaming baskets they had been prepared in, a mixed order of half pork and scallop, half shrimp, leek and egg followed by a full order of lamb and coriander were brought to our table with a variety of condiments: vinegar, soy and chili oil. The first ones we tried were the scallop and pork, they turned out to be definitely our least favorite of the three. They were relatively bland and slightly fishy in an unpleasant way, we probably wouldn't order those again when we return. The shrimp, leek and egg dumplings were far more pleasing, all three fillings were discernible, the egg more so in terms of texture than taste, we were thankful that things were starting to look up. Our hands-down favorite of the three were the lamb and coriander dumplings; a little fatty with a punch of coriander to brighten things up, after eating these ones we finally understood what all the hype was about. At first we found that the best way to eat the dumplings was to bite a hole and let some steam escape before popping it in your mouth. They were most enjoyable as they cooled a little and you could just eat the whole thing and let the soup explode in your mouth, a pretty cool experience. Our condiment of choice for the dumplings was the chili oil, which was identical to that which our appetizer had been dressed with.
Shrimp, Egg, Leek - 9.99$/15 dumplings
Pork & Scallop - 11.99$/15 dumplings
Lamb & Coriander - 12.99$/15 dumplings
Overall we had a good time at Qing Hua but it's clear that which filling you choose makes a big difference. Had we not ordered the lamb and coriander dumplings we may have left with a very different opinion of the place, those and the tongue appetizer are really what will motivate us to return. The options are plentiful and the price is right so it's safe to say we'll try a few more types, the curry ones struck our interest and the potato salad seems to be a popular recommendation amongst our friends. Qing Hua also has a second location on St Laurent in Chinatown.
Qing Hua Dumpling
Qing Hua Dumpling