After our longtime friend and fellow activist Joel Bartlett took us on a vegan dumpling tour of Los Angeles, he decided to take the ultimate East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry to the streets… of NYC’s Chinatown. If you’ve been reading our blog you already know Joel from his years of test piloting our food and as the “Joel” of Sloppy Joels fame… or maybe you know him for being PETA’s Director of Marketing Innovations. He’s also literally a world traveler who has just launched a new site called Vegan Wanderlust where he shares food photos from around the world.
Are you ready to follow two men take-on NYC’s Chinatown? Make it so gentlemen.
Ever since eating 55 vegan dumplings in one day while visiting Los Angeles (and blogging the results on this site) I’ve had dumplings on my mind. If Dan hadn’t been so busy watching his baby or watching football (or watching football with his baby—Go Patriots!) he would have been up to join me, but instead I called upon famous animal rights activist and NYC vegan food expert Patrick Kwan. Patrick also grew up in Chinatown (watch a video of Patrick and Our Hen House’s Jasmin Singer devouring Chinatown’s vegan goodies), so he ended up becoming my tour guide through this journey into dumplings. Patrick’s only stipulation was that he refused to leave Manhattan. (Patrick: “It was raining!”)
Order: 3 Bamboo Pith Dumplings, 4 Steamed Sticky Rice Shui Mai, 3 Cantonese Style Dumplings, 3 Sweet Tapioca Dumplings, and 3 Fried Taro Custard
Total Dumpling Count: 16 dumplings of 5 varieties.
As we walked in half a dozen employees said, “Hi, Patrick!” I knew I had the right partner for this trip. Patrick took the lead and picked out our order from the almost all vegan dim sum menu (served daily until 3:30pm) of more than 50 small dishes.
The first dumpling I bit into was the fried taro custard dumpling (pictured above). Spoiler alert: it may have been my favorite of the day. It had three distinct levels of texture: crunchy, flakey fried outside, soft taro custard inside, and then stuffed with crisp vegetables and veggie ham. And don’t be fooled by the word custard—this is a savory dumpling. We didn’t start with dessert!
The Cantonese dumplings and bamboo pith dumplings were pretty similar vegetable dumplings. One had peanuts and the other bamboo and veggie ham—both in rice wrappers. Normally words like mushy or glutinous aren’t great adjectives—but I think with dumplings it’s fine. The sweet tapioca dumpling was filled with lotus seed paste and had a bumpy texture from the tapioca. The shui mai (pork dumpling) was sticky rice based, which was different from the other vegan shui mai I’ve had—but this one actually had a stronger veggie ham flavor. I was into it.
And guess what—all the orders of dumplings were only $2.95 each. This place is a steal.
Buddha Bodai is located at 5 Mott Street in New York, NY 10013 | 212-566-8388.
Dim Sum Go Go
Order: 2 Vegetarian Dim Sum Platters
Total Dumpling Count: 36 dumplings of 15 varieties.
I’m not sure how to describe ten different dumplings in a way that’s not tedious. Just look at the photo and you see the variety of the vegetarian dim sum platter! Overall we appreciated the variety: crisp spinach and parsley, dried shanghai cabbage, baby corn and edamame, etc. Patrick’s an expert at identifying the ingredients. “You don’t know what snow pea shoots tastes like?” he asked. The spinach and snow pea shoots dumplings—which had a contrast from the soft dumpling wrapper and crisp fresh veggies were my favorites.
Patrick explained that traditional Chinese Buddhist vegetarian cuisine doesn’t use onions, scallions, garlic, chives, and shallots—they make you horny or something—but unlike, say, Buddha Bodhai, Dim Sum Go Go (which is not a vegetarian restaurant) uses them and has a delicious scallion and ginger in oil dipping sauce (avoid the non-vegetarian shrimp paste sauce!). Patrick also explained that eating dumplings with soy sauce “is a whitey thing.”
In the middle of the beautiful platter was a snow ear mushroom which you eat by dunking it in the vinegar sauce. It was good, but the texture still haunts me—like biting into thin Styrofoam.
Dum Sum Go Go is located at 5 East Broadway, New York, NY 11038 | 212-732-0797.
Vegetarian Dim Sum House
Order: 2 Fried Salty Dumplings, 4 Mock Shrimp Dumplings, 3 Fried Sesame Paste Buns, Three Color Dumpling Soup, and Shark Fin Soup Dumpling
Total Dumpling Count: 55 dumplings of 22 varieties.
Patrick was excited they had the fried salty dumplings (pictured on left in collage below), which he says is the only place in NYC for them and they are his favorite. They are served at room temperature because they are hard to make. They are salty on the outside with a sweet glutinous inside.
The mock shrimp dumpling (pictured on right in collage below) is, according to Patrick, the best vegan shrimp dumpling and best eaten with white pepper. They are his favorite. Patrick loved seafood and found it hard to give up when going vegetarian. If he won the lottery he’d give money to vegan seafood research just to make his own life better. I on the other hand always hated seafood, but I still found these edible—not too shrimpy for me.
The shark fin soup dumpling (top photo for this entry) – filled with large pieces of veggie shrimp, shitake mushrooms, and strands of veggie shark fin made from seaweed in a rich broth – is also Patrick’s favorite… How are three dumplings Patrick’s favorite? In his own words: “I’m dumpling slutty.” The soup dumpling is different than a regular soup dumpling; more like a dumpling pot pie – lift the dumpling skin, and you find the soup and filling. It’s just a big weird completely un-photogenic mess. The red vinegar gives it a little something at least. It was tasty! (And with all this talk of shark fin it’s worth mentioning that Patrick helped pass the law that took effect last year to ban shark fin in New York when he worked at The Humane Society of the United States.)
The flavor of the fried sesame paste buns was subdued and Patrick complained that they were too hearty to eat (his complaining is pictured in middle of collage above). I ate the extra one.
The three color dumpling soup was filled with three types of dumplings in a light broth: wontons, boiled watercress dumplings, and konnyaku yam flour noodle dumplings (they were like a fun ball of noodles that breaks apart in your mouth as you bite in).
Vegetarian Dim Sum House is located at 24 Pell Street, New York, NY 10013 | 212-577-7176.
Order: 8 Vegetable Boiled Dumplings
Total Dumpling Count: 63 dumplings of 23 varieties.
When researching for this tour Prosperity Dumpling was the place that showed up on the most lists of “Best Dumplings in NYC.” It’s a hole- in-the-wall takeaway spot where you can buy eight dumplings for $3. Patrick assumes the non-vegan dumplings are what makes it popular because the vegetable dumplings are so basic: cabbage, carrot wood ear mushroom, and bean thread noodles in a whole wheat wrapper. I think it’s popular just because it’s cheap. Patrick’s thoughts: “I ate one and I’m bored” and “This is a waste of space.”
Prosperity Dumpling is located at 46 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002| 212-343-0683.
Order: 4 Veggie Dumplings – Seared and 4 Special Veggie Nutty Dumplings
Total Dumpling Count: 71 dumplings of 25 varieties.
We are out of Chinatown now! The best part of Dumpling Man is that they have a special veggie dumpling every day. Keep coming back and keep getting something different! We got the regular veggie dumpling pan-fried, pictured above. It was heartier than other dumplings—filled with pickled cabbage and even TVP. The special of the day was a veggie nutty dumpling. It was a soft rice dumpling filled with veggies like celery and mushrooms and peanut butter. It was definitely a delicious and unique dumpling!
Dumpling Man is located at 100 St Marks Place, New York, NY 10009 | 212-505-2121.
Order: Vegetable Goon (fried) Mandoo and Vegetable Mandoo Soup
Total Dumpling Count: 80 dumplings of 27 varieties.
For our last stop we mixed it up and got mandu—Korean dumplings. We ordered pan-friend vegetable mandu and a vegetable mandu soup which had boiled dumplings in it.
The dumplings had a thick skin that Patrick saw as more a sign of laziness or lack of skill than a culinary decision. I did think that the dumpling wrapper overwhelmed the rest of the dumpling and needed a sauce to be enjoyed. The soup had a nice light broth with many kinds of mushrooms—it was the only thing Patrick liked about the soup.
Patrick took the last few of his share home saying he would have eaten them if they were good and said (these are his words, not mine) that he’s glad we’ve proven Chinese dumplings are better. Now, now, Patrick!
Mandoo is located at 2 West 32nd Street, New York, NY 10001 | 212-279-3075.
Final Count of the Day: Joel ate 41.1 dumplings and Patrick ate 38.5 dumplings for a total of 80 dumplings of 27 different varieties.