Wednesday, March 17, 2010
The Best Chinese Restaurants #1: Mother's Dumplings
Mother's Dumpling is the #1 ranked Chinese restaurant in Toronto, according to BlogTO. Being Chinese, I've been to a countless number of Chinese restaurants in Toronto and it would be unfair to rank Mother's Dumpling the #1 spot simply because the cuisines from different regions of China differs greatly. You have the bold and spicy flavours of the Sichuan; the fresh, savory flavours of the Cantonese, the warm, soft flavours of the North and more. Mother's Dumplings would fall under Northern Chinese cuisine.
When I visited Mother's Dumplings, they were still located in their tiny hole in the wall at 79 Huron St. At the time of my visit, they had a sign that says they would be moving to 421 Spadina Ave. which is around Spadina and College. I have yet to visit that location so I can only comment on the old one.
I got there a bit before 1:00 PM and I could see that a lot of people were already busy enjoying their lunch at Mother's Dumplings. This place was tiny and should probably only seat 13 people or so at most but they managed to pack close to 20. It was definitely a fire hazard.
As we waited to be seated, the waitress came by with a couple of menus for us to order from while we stood. That way she could place our orders and we would be able to eat once we sat down. Great idea...except for the fact that she never came back to take our order. When our table was ready, she got us and walked us to the back. Our party of three finally got a table...that was fit for two. Looking around at our surroundings, this place looked exactly like what somebody's house would look like if they tried to turn it into a restaurant. Mother's Dumplings was GHETTO. One could only hope that the new location is a vast improvement from the old basement location.
The three of us were starving so we handed her our slip with our selected dishes (too many, I might add) and waited for our food to arrive. If you're not familiar with Northern style Chinese food, you should expect a lot of steamed/boiled dishes, soup-based meals and softer, natural flavours.
The first dish that came were noodles. They had to be Dalu Noodles since that was the only noodle dish we ordered. We mixed the minced meat, cucumbers and noodles together and chowed down. The noodles were boiled and had a slippery texture, the minced meat tasted buttery and the raw cucumber brought a cool contrast to the dish. While I felt that it could have used some more salt, it was a decent first dish. Before we could finish it, the waitress came by and told us it was the wrong order and took it away. Looking at their menu and using the process of elimination, this would have to be their Stewed Beef Noodle because it simply can't be anything else.
Upon taking back the wrong order, our waitress came back with our Da Lu Noodles. I had no idea what to expect from this dish but it was listed as a favourite so it had to be good! From what I can tell, it was a bowl of noodles with minced pork, wood ear mushroom and some vegetables in a thick, creamy broth. To be honest, I was rather disappointed with this dish. I found it very bland and not very memorable at all. Surprising since it received a bunch of rave reviews online. Perhaps this was a one-off incident where the chef forgot an ingredient. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and would try it again just to be sure.
Now for their specialty, their dumplings! Mother's Dumplings have three different methods of preparing dumplings: boiled, steamed and pan-fried. Keep in mind that the types of dumplings available under each method of preparation may not be the same.
The first batch batch of dumplings to reach our table were the boiled pork and dill dumplings. I prefer boiled dumplings to steamed dumplings because the dumplings retain their juices and as a result, they aren't as dry. There is a lot of dill in these dumplings and some may find it overpowering but I'm a big fan of dill so I was fine with the taste. My two friends on the other hand didn't enjoy them as well. Oh well, more for me!
Next up are the steamed juicy pork buns. I could be wrong, but I'm fairly certain they are a Shanghai specialty. They're not truly buns since the wrapping is thin like a dumpling and not doughy like Chinese buns are supposed to be. The insides of the buns packs quite a bit of juice so the ideal way to eat these would be in one bite. The juicy pork buns at Mother's Dumplings were pretty big though so it was easier said than done. These were simply fantastic. I definitely recommend getting these at Mother's Dumplings or trying them at any Shanghai restaurant.
The more traditional basket of steamed dumplings we got were pork and chives flavoured. These came out slightly dry and like the pork and dill, the pork seemed like the secondary ingredient. They were pretty big but there was simply too much chives for my liking.
For the pan-fried option, we opted for the pork and bak choi dumplings. I was disappointed that under the pan-fried menu, there were only two type to choose from (pork & bak choi and pork, shrimp & melon). The dumplings were a bit oily but the wrapping was nice and crispy. Much better than how Dumpling House does theirs. I wasn't a fan of bak choi in a dumpling though.
Lastly, we ordered their popular green-onion pancake. While this just appears to be pan-fried batter with green onions, I can see why it's a favourite amongst diners at Mother's Dumpling. They were crispy on the outside yet the inside was thick and chewy. I highly recommend this and to make your decision easier, it's one of the cheaper items on the menu!
If there's one thing I've learned from growing up on Chinese food is that there is no such thing as expensive Chinese food! The dumplings were roughly $0.50 each (they come in orders of 12 or 24) and while it might look like we got a lot of food, the total came up to a little over $50. We also had enough left over food for dinner.
Overall: 4 China Walls out of 5
Due to a lot of their tame flavours, I'm not the biggest fan of Northern Chinese food but I do enjoy dumplings every now and then. While I won't crown Mother's Dumplings the best Chinese Restaurant in Toronto, they are a very good spot for dumplings and all their loyal customers are proof of that. They do give you good bang for your buck and serve up a home cooked meal away from home. I just hope their new location isn't an actual house like their old one. If your dumpling cravings still aren't satisfied, you can ask for a menu to order some frozen dumplings to make at home!