Soup dumplings: The best things come in small packages

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Thee dumplings are exceptional at Flushing's Nan Xiang Dumpling House.Photos by Bradley Hawks
Thee dumplings are exceptional at Flushing's Nan Xiang Dumpling House.

As the autumn chill gradually grows in the air, so too does the desire for warm comfort foods.  While a whole steaming bowl of soup may still be just a bit too much, why not try a slider version?  Sound absurd?  Then you definitely need to stop by the Nan Xiang Dumpling House in Flushing, where patrons swear by some of the most popular soup dumplings in the entire city.

Dumpling meatballs are hand rolled and suspended in aspic, chilled, and then packed into paper thin wrappers fresh to order, twisted at the top into tiny gift-wrapped bites that arrive at the table in baskets piping hot from the steamer, which transforms the aspic into a complex broth.  My favorite is the crab and pork version, like a miniature surf and turf, which sell for just $6.50 for six dumplings.

There are several YouTube videos that demonstrate proper technique, but no matter how many times I eat a soup dumpling, I still get excited.  Warning: the broth in these little guys is extremely hot.  It is best to tenderly pluck a dumpling by the top, hold the empty soup ladle just beneath your chin, all while nibbling a tiny hole into the side of the dumpling, allowing the broth to gently trickle into the ladle.  Instantly, you have a spoonful of luscious soup, and a seafood meatball dumpling ready to devour.

While the dumplings are exceptional—Nan Xiang also serves excellent fried pork dumplings, steamed vegetable dumplings, and even Shanghai shao mai—the full menu holds a variety of other hidden gems worthy of notice.  Hint: do not feel rushed when ordering.  The servers will immediately approach your table for an order, without even offering a menu.  Observe around you a dining room of locals who sometimes even order as they are sitting down.  But if you ask for a menu for perusal, the staff gladly adjusts the pace of service accordingly.  On one occasion, an elderly Chinese couple next to me ordered as they were seated, and food arrived within minutes.  When I asked if this was their favorite place in the neighborhood, they laughed, explaining they had just arrived from Texas an hour ago—that several friends had told them Nan Xiang needed to be their first stop and had instructed them precisely what to order.

Following their lead, I tried the turnip puffs, like a savory Chinese miniature counterpart to the Italian sfogliatelle.   Where the Italians use custard, these Chinese pastries are filled with shredded daikon, minced vegetables, and tiny cubes of pork—then crusted in sesame seeds and baked to golden brown.

Other favorites include the salty sticky rice roll—stuffed with a fried cruller, pork floss, and house pickles—as well as the fried rice cakes, like Chinese gnocchi sliced into coins, then sautéed in a rich brown gravy with vegetables and tender slices of beef.

Sample a few dishes, then return sample some more.  Items range in price from $1.25 to $9.95 for the seafood crispy rice noodles, should you decide to splurge.  But be sure to start with a soup dumpling, because the best things sometimes really do come in small packages.

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao
38-12 Prince Street, Flushing 11354
718-321-3838
pen daily from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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