Updated: Jan 6, 2020
If you read my about me, you'll see that dim sum is fairly new to me. I'm so happy my palate has evolved because who doesn't love bite-sized portions, c'mon!
I've come to love Asian & Japanese cuisine. They really capture the fifth sense of umami in their food. It's comforting and exciting to the taste buds. Oh, and if you're one of those people who are scared of MSG, just do a bit of research on it. MSG actually naturally happens in a lot of the food you already eat! I digress. Do your research, get over it, and make your food taste even better.
Today I'm bringing you to Vanessa's Dumplings! I found this place out when I was looking for the best dumplings in NYC (there's a lot of lists and even more options). I went with Vanessa's Dumplings because I saw it in a lot of lists and it was in an area I'm a bit familiar with, Chinatown/Lower East Side (they have a few stores) and I believe it is the original location.
Let me tell you a little about the actual location. It's tight. It's constantly crowded. It's hot. It's frickin' delicious. Oh, and it's cheap!
When I walked in, I was with 3 other people on a cold Winter day. My glasses had instantly fogged up and when I took them off, I was taken aback by how packed this little dumpling shop was. Judging by the people eating the actual food, I knew I had come to the right spot.
I got to the back of the line, squeezing through fellow patrons both eating and waiting for their food, and checked out the menu. I heard great things about their wontons so that was my first choice. I then had to go for their fried and boiled dumplings.
Everything was delicious and filling. I spent about less than $20 for a bunch of stuff that I knew, I'd come back for. In fact, months later, I went back to pick me up, get this, a bag of 50 frozen pork & chive dumplings! That's right. Vanessa's Dumplings sell their actual dumplings in batches of 50. You also get to choose a few flavor/protein options and can get the fried or boiled dumplings. So good. This reminds me:
*I'll throw up a little dumpling sauce recipe at the bottom!
(I actually keep their menu pinned to my fridge like a child's drawing)
Now here we are. This LES favorite was an immediate thought when I started this blog. I hope some of you native New Yorkers give it a try. I hope those of you that are travelling New York, do the same.
I headed over there on a chilly afternoon, hoping to dodge any crowds. I show up and it's like I relived my first experience all over again! Every seat was taken, everyone hunched over each other, dumplings being plopped into their mouths, and the look of joy taking over. I squeeze my way to the back, grab a menu (as if I didn't know what I was getting already) and placed my order:
Fried Pork & Chive Dumplings (4)
Boiled Vegetable Dumplings (8)
Chive & Egg Stuffed Pancake
Sesame Pancake Sandwich W/ vegs (shredded carrot, cilantro, and cucumbers)
Coconut Milk Bubble Tea
Nice sounding lunch, huh?
(I may have eaten a fried dumpling before snapping the shot lol)
So let's start with what I've had a few times and what they're known for:
Fried Pork & Chive Dumplings
First of all, I was so happy when I found a corner seat in the back. My own little space without intruding anyone's personal space. Second of all, I was so happy just to have my dumplings that I plopped it right into my mouth and practically singed my taste buds! It was worth it though (lol).
On my second attempt at actually tasting the food, I took a bite (about half the dumpling) and was instantly welcomed with a lean but deliciously flavored bite of pork and a subtle side of chives. The chives beautifully accent the pork and go together hand in hand.
Overall, the flavor of the dumpling is pretty good, even by itself. I added some of the provided dumpling sauce (which is abundant at every table) and it did add some umami but I would've preferred if there was a hint of some garlic. This is why I decided to mix the garlic chili with the sauce (they're side by side in case you're wondering). I really enjoyed that. As for the actual ingredients, they taste fresh and bright. It's also safe to assume that it's fresh since these chefs are bangin' out batches of about 50 different dumplings every 10 minutes! It's also comforting and filling but not to the point where you feel like a bloated beached whale. That brings me to the dough. I hate doughy dumplings. I do love their thinner counterpart, wontons. I still order dumplings and tend to judge harshly on how thick/thin their dumpling dough is. Vanessa's is in that sweet spot. It's not thin (although their wontons in hot chili oil are to die for) but not steam bun thick. That's probably what gets me to trek all the way down to Chinatown.
These fried folks get:
7.5/10 (they're a classic combo!)
Boiled Vegetable Dumplings
This right here is pretty much my wife's go-to. They're the safe and healthier dumplings (I guess).
They're a tad bland in my opinion but aren't bad. I prefer fried dumplings overall but these are boiled to a science. They're not soggy balls of mush like I've had at some other spots. They hold well and absorb any sauce you douse it in. You already know what mix I threw over these green fellas. The menu doesn't say which vegetables exactly are inside but after eating about all 8, I feel like there are definitely some (again this is just an educated guess) carrots, cabbage, chives, and perhaps some mushrooms.
The dumplings themselves are a nice light option and offer a crisp rawness of some of the veggies even though they were boiled. If you're doing a food crawl, I would recommend some of these just to switch it up.
I'm giving these green pups:
Sesame Pancake W/ Veggies
Wow. When I first strolled into this spot, the cooks were serving some of these up to this couple at the counter top. My best friend and I shot eyes at each other and were interested immediately. It could've been because we were starving, but now having bit into this soft and pillowy sesame pancake sandwich thingy, I know our eyes could taste it too.
Off the bat, I thought they were gonna be a take on scallion pancakes or something but it's completely it's own thing. This is such a refreshing palate cleanser. The veggies option is the way to go on this. It tasted like some sort of brined carrots with cucumbers. It also had a sort of soy sauce or something similar drizzled in it. I couldn't stop eating it! I kept putting it down to just pick it up. The fella across from me actually ordered the same thing. According to his reactions, he felt the same as me.
This is something that I might have to order every time I visit.
I'm giving this bright tasting fluffy sandwich:
Ready for the next bite?
Egg & Chive Bun
Meh. I guess it just wasn't what I was expecting. It reminded me of an empanada... Until I took a bite. It was a bit plain and doughy. It was in the bite that it then reminded me more of a stuffed pita. I don't have much to say about it other than it was rather bland. Even when I poured some of the available sauces, I just put it down and enjoyed my other yummy items. The chives really popped in this though. The eggs, not so much. Just a bit boring, especially with all of the other great items they offer.
I'm giving this doughy fella:
Coconut Milk Bubble Tea
Bubble tea! Like most things, I found this to be gross when I first tried it years ago. Now, I can always go for some bubble tea (coconut and taro are my favorite).
I initially wanted to get a beer to wash everything down but this really caught my eye. I'm glad it did!
This bubble tea had a nice balance of sweet and refreshing. It's a perfect combo when eating everything I did. Really helped with the saltyness of the sauces I had been dipping everything in. It wasn't a filling drink like most are, even with the tapioca pearls. To top it off, it wasn't an "in your face" coconut taste. It was a tad subtle but you were able to fully enjoy the drink as something to wash some food down.
This delightful drink gets:
*Dumpling Sauce Recipe:
2 TBSP Soy Sauce
2 TBSP Rice Vinegar
1-2 TBSP Chili Garlic
2 tsp Sesame Oil
1/4 tsp Fish Sauce (optional)
This will be good for about 6 dumplings.