Hot and sour soup and dumplings at Dumpling House
If there’s one food truism, it’s that one can never can have enough dumplings. I love ’em: shumai, gyoza, steamed or fried, I don’t care. Just serve them to me. It’s been a while since I last stopped in at Dumpling House, partly because it’s along that strip of Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Central squares that you generally zip through without really taking stock of. Dumpling House was once a regular Saturday stop for the family after my daughter’s attendance at Science Club for Girls at the Margaret Fuller House, but she’s aged out and, well, Covid. That said, I was out biking around last week, thinking about dumplings for lunch and, as happy happenstance had it, rolling down that very stretch of Massachusetts Avenue.
Dumpling House, the sister outpost to the wildly popular Gourmet Dumpling House in Chinatown, also has a lunch menu with solid offerings that are good deals for the dollar. But I was there for dumplings, leaving the only question: plain pork soup dumplings, or the crab and pork version? I stuck with the basic pork and was pleased. If you’ve never had a soup dumpling but appreciate a more traditional Peeking dumpling or ravioli, fried or steamed (which you can get here too), you’re in for a treat. A soup dumpling has a much thinner skin, and since it’s steamed, the pork and spice filling turns into a broth of sorts inside the doughy pouch. You have to wait a minimum of 15 minutes for its preparation; when the covered tin of seven pouches of yummy heaven arrives, beware – that steamed-up juiciness is scalding hot. Let them cool for a second or two to avoid burning the roof of your mouth and bumming out the experience and your first bite will be a rich explosion of seasoned porky soup that explodes wonderfully in your mouth. The taste is somewhat akin to those porky ramen broths, but much lighter and far juicier. The dumplings come with a soy ginger dipping sauce, but you don’t really need it.
I waited out my 15 minutes of rabid anticipation with a bowl of hot and sour soup, a mouth-puckering delight that perfectly played tart and tangy against the sweet with the wonderful texture and taste-pleasing combination of wood ear fungus, bamboo shoots and tofu filling the bowl. I’d ordered the smaller size and got what I thought at first was the server’s mistake, because it was huge.
As far as the rest of that menu, it’s pages and pages and I’m sure it’s all quite fine. The chicken and cabbage and crystal shrimp dumplings caught my eye for later noshes, as did the vegetable leek pie with dried shrimp, but the time to sample is when you’re there with a bigger party and you make orders for the table – with dumplings for all that I am sure will be the first to go, with the table waiting another 15 minutes for the next batch. Another thing to note: Dumpling House would never be accused of being long on ambiance. It’s a stop-in for the hungry who are serious about rich, savory flavors making it to their bellies. I’m glad I made the reconnection and can’t wait to return, and I guess I need to pay attention more on my roams up and down Massachusetts Avenue.
Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.