Prices and Beijing style draw dumpling house crowds
Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert
The busy scene at the Dumpling House on Eldridge St.
By Amanda Kludt
Even in the midst of this last weekends blizzard, customers crowded up in front of the small counter at Dumpling House on Eldridge St. and patiently waited for one of the cheapest and most filling meals in town. With most customers paying less than $5 for a full-sized meal, it is no wonder why they eagerly pack into the small space every day at lunchtime.
Behind the counter at Dumpling House workers constantly stir, flip and season the specialties cooking in three large skillets. At one pot, a young woman adds water to some steaming vegetable dumplings, while next to her a man divvies out freshly made fried pork dumplings onto plastic plates and to-go Styrofoam boxes. Meanwhile a third worker carefully places a large pizza-sized disk of dough into the behemoth skillet full of hot oil. In a few minutes he produces a crispy but doughy sesame pancake served to the customer in a surprisingly large slice for 50 cents.
The quality is different from the other places, said Dumpling Houses owner Vanessa Duan when explaining her restaurants popularity. I think its the price, and everything is handmade. Duan, originally from Beijing, opened her restaurant at 118A Eldridge St. five years ago. She said she has always made her dumplings, soups and pancakes in the original Beijing style and even uses skillets from China at Dumpling House and her other restaurant on Mulberry St., Tasty Dumpling.
Duan sat in the restaurants back room with three other women who carefully kneaded dough and folded ingredients into dumplings to be fried or steamed. According to Duan, the most popular items are the pork and chive fried dumplings (five for $1) and the sesame pancake with beef ($1.50).
The freshness is evident in all the menu items. The workers take the large sesame pancake out of the skillet, cut it into slices and hand them right to the customers in small wax paper sleeves. The pancakes, both crunchy and doughy at the same time, can be made into a beef or egg sandwich. As for the dumplings, the workers bring them straight from the back room to the skillets and when eaten, the fresh dough is as delicious as the inside ingredients.
The style of the restaurant, with boxes in the narrow entryway, a small counter facing a wall for eating and no décor to speak of, is informal. However, that doesnt stop the lunch crowd from pouring in every day, blizzards notwithstanding, to sample some of the best dumplings on the Lower East Side